|Leggett, Tigers Open Season As Marked Men|
|by Dan Scott - Correspondent - Wednesday, January 25, 2006 2:22 PM||
CLEMSON - A year ago, a young Clemson baseball team with a number of unanswered questions in its lineup treaded water through the first half of the season. But when it all came together over the final 38 games, the Tigers had finished with 43 wins and missed a College World Series berth by one victory.
There will be no flying under the radar in 2006.
With all eight starting position players returning, two-thirds of the weekend pitching rotation back and a healthy ace in Jason Berken ready to go for the first time since mid-2004, Jack Leggett's team is an odds-on favorite for a year-end trip to Omaha for the CWS.
And from Leggett's standpoint, that suits him just fine.
"We've come to expect that around here," he said. "Expectations are always high at Clemson, and I'm just excited we get to start playing games here soon. It's a special time of year, every year, for me and the team."
Leggett's personal expectations are always high. Reaching the CWS and winning a national championship are always his top goals.
But this season the expectations are coming from both inside the Atlantic Coast Conference and around the country. Clemson was picked to finish first in the ACC in a vote of league coaches announced last week, garnering eight first place votes in the process.
Meanwhile, the three major publications which rank college baseball nationally have the Tigers picked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 6 at year's beginning.
And Leggett doesn't mind the added pressure, as long as his team reacts to it in the proper manner.
"I told them after the first day of practice that the one thing that can destroy us is if we start to believe our press clippings," he said. "You start to believe that stuff and you quit working hard. And believe me, to get where we want to go we're going to have to work harder than anyone else out there."
The talent is there, no question.
Sophomores Taylor Harbin (second base), Stan Widmann (shortstop) and Brad Chalk (center field) give the Tigers tremendous defense up the middle. Seniors Herman Demmink (third base) and Travis Storrer (right field) will be counted on for both production and leadership, while juniors Tyler Colvin (left field) and Andy D'Alessio (first base) will team with Harbin to fill the heart of Leggett's batting order.
Junior college transfer Marquez Smith, along with holdovers Ben Hall and John Ingram, will be among those pushing for playing time this spring.
Catcher Adrian Casanova (senior) returns to work with a talented pitching staff which returns two of last season's weekend starters - Steven Faris and Josh Cribb, plus last season's top freshmen David Kopp and Daniel Moskos, veterans Drew Fiorenza, Chris Howard, Chris Fidrych Sean Clark and Stephen Clyne, and a healthy P.J. Zocchi.
Newcomer Ryan Hinson will fight for a large role as a freshman.
But perhaps the biggest boost in the staff comes from the return of Berken, a redshirt junior, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
Now back and healthy again, Berken has regained his low-90s fastball and should team with Farris and Cribb to form a very good starting rotation.
"He looks good right now. All we're really working on is building up his endurance again," Leggett said of Berken. "He's such a great competitor. Having him back is going to make a big difference in this team."
Steven Richard, who finished last season 9-1 as the No. 1 starter at the University of Maine, will open the year as Clemson's closer.
Clemson opens the season Feb. 17, hosting James Madison in a three-game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
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