CLEMSON - Not too long ago Jack Leggett's Clemson baseball team was treading water with a 9-10 record, having fallen out of the national rankings for the first time in recent memory.
Since then the Tigers have won 15 of 19 to improve to 24-14 on the season, 8-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Again the team is ranked, currently as high as No. 17 in the national polls.
So exactly what has happened to this team during the middle portion of the season? How have fortunes turned so quickly that fans who a month ago were questioning everything from coaching to talent now are cautiously thinking about a possible trip to the College World Series?
What happened? Time, Leggett said.
"We integrated some new faces into this lineup, and adjusting to baseball at this level can take some time," he said Thursday. "Every team has to find it's chemistry, and it looks like we're beginning to find ours. Except for that little hiccup at Virginia (where the Cavs swept three ACC games) we've been playing really well for a while now."
As the tide has turned, Clemson has shown the ability to do the little things good teams do over the course of a long season.
For instance, earlier this week in a 13-4 victory over The Citadel, every time the visiting Bulldogs made a mistake Clemson capitalized. If a Citadel fielder committed an error, it was followed by a clutch Clemson hit that drove in a run. If a Bulldog batter fell behind in the count, Tiger pitchers put him away.
Then there was Wednesday's rally from six runs down to beat Western Carolina.
With one out and the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the ninth inning, Brad McCann hit a slow roller back toward the mound. Had McCann halfheartedly jogged to first, disgusted that he couldn't drive in the tying run, perhaps WCU pitcher Daniel Lindner would have made the easy throw to first base and retired the Clemson third baseman.
Instead, McCann ran to first base like he does on every play - as if his life depended on it. And maybe it was that sense of urgency that caused Lindner to hurry his throw just a bit, enough to sail it over the head of the first baseman and down the rightfield line.
Just enough to allow both runs to score, letting Clemson sneak its foot from the trap in dramatic fashion.
Yes, Clemson was lucky. But good teams, it seems, always are.
"We're doing the little things right now," Leggett said. "Our starting pitching has been good, our bullpen has had a little trouble in spots but seems to be coming around, and we're swinging the bats okay right now. All we have to do is keep it up."
Challenging Clemson's momentum this weekend will be ACC rival N.C. State (27-13, 9-6).
The Wolfpack saunters into Doug Kingsmore Stadium tonight (7 p.m.) with the kind of starting pitching which can put an end to momentum in a hurry. Michael Rogers (6-2, 2.69 ERA), Vern Sterry (7-1, 1.57) and Phillip Davidson (4-1, 2.34) have led the Wolfpack to a third-place standing in the ACC to this point, just a half-game behind Clemson.
The Tigers will counter with lefthanders Tyler Lumsden (3-2, 3.89) and Robert Rohrbaugh (2-2, 2.82) and righty Jason Berken (5-1, 2.27).
Berken, who missed several starts with a sore arm, threw an impressive inning vs. Western Carolina Wednesday as a warmup for this weekend.
"He threw the ball well," Leggett said of his No. 1 starter. "Having him back is going give us a big lift."
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.