CLEMSON—The reset button has been pushed, the new season is here and the time for clichés and motivational phrases is over for the Clemson Tiger baseball team, as they prepare to take on the fourth-seeded UNC-Greensboro Spartans in the regionals of the NCAA Tournament.
While many around the baseball world have already penciled the Tigers into the Saturday winners bracket game against No. 2 seed Vanderbilt—should the Commodores win their game Friday against No. 3 seed St. Johns—the Tigers are not looking past anyone this year.
“You start looking ahead and start saying, ‘Let’s get this thing set up for three games’ and ‘If we do this, then we can do this in Game 2 and Game 3.’ Then the next thing you do is get punched in the face in game one, and you are really going to regret thinking that way,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said.
The Tigers will hope to avoid a repeat of last year’s regional, when the No. 7 national seeded Tigers did not advance out of the regional.
In fact, the Tigers have not advanced to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament since 2010—also the last time that Clemson baseball team advanced to Omaha and the College World Series.
In order to give his Tigers the best opportunity to advance, Lee’s Tigers need to win game one against UNC-Greensboro.
“We are treating every single game like it’s a single-game, and this is the only game that matters,” Lee said. “If we’ve got to use (weekend starter) Pat (Krall) out of the pen or (midweek starter) Tyler Jackson out of the pen to help us win that game when those last nine outs come in, then that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do everything we can to win Game 1.”
The Tigers may need all hands on deck as they will face one of the top hitting teams in the country in their opening game.
The Spartans rank fourth in the NCAA in team batting average (.325), 24th in slugging percentage (.472), 12th in hits (643) and 17th in scoring (7.5 runs per game). And including their 13-1 victory over Furman in the Southern Conference Championship game, the Spartans have averaged 7.9 runs per game over the last 10 games.
It is that type of offensive prowess that has the Tigers head coach taking a little extra time in deciding who will get the start Friday night.
“(We are) looking at UNC-G and seeing who is hot in their lineup and what they are doing versus lefties and again trying to study each opponent to the best of our abilities before we make a decision as to who we are going to start in Game 1,” Lee said. “You have to try to do everything to win that (first) game, because when you get into the loser’s bracket in the postseason it’s really going to stretch and push your pitching depth.
“It is very difficult to win if you drop a game.”
The No. 1 seeded Tigers open play in Game 2 of the Clemson Regional Friday (7 p.m.) against the No. 4 seeded University of North Carolina-Greensboro Spartans. Clemson is 2-0 all-time against the Spartans, having won both games played during the 2008 season (11-10, 6-5).
The winner will play the winner of the No.2 seeded Vanderbilt Commodores and the No. 3 seeded St. John’s Red Storm, who play in Game 1 of the regional (Friday, noon), Saturday night (7 p.m.), with the losers of Game 1 and Game 2 of the regional facing off Saturday at noon.