Clemson-Baylor Super Regional Preview

by - Correspondent -
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WACO, Texas - A thorough look at the numbers of his own club, as well as that of Baylor, has led Jack Leggett to a conclusion.

"I think this series will come down to our hitters," the Clemson coach said Friday at the NCAA Super Regional press conference, held in the Sullivan Room of Baylor Ballpark in Waco, Texas.

"With their pitching, we're going to have to keep doing what we've been doing. We've got to execute the bunt game, and when we get runners in scoring position we've got to get them in. We can't waste scoring opportunities against these guys."

The team numbers between Clemson and Baylor (both 42-21) are interesting, to say the least.

The Tigers hit .308 as a team and have pounded 75 home runs. Baylor's pitching staff (3.30 earned run average) has allowed opponents just a .234 average this season, and has allowed just 30 home runs.

Meanwhile, Clemson's pitchers have a 3.89 earned run average and have given up just 28 homers. Tiger hurlers are allowing the opposition to hit at a .269 clip.

Baylor's team batting average? Exactly .269.

But raw numbers can be deceiving. Otherwise one wouldn't expect the duo of Seth Fortenberry and Jeff Mandel to be instant legends in the annals of Baylor baseball history.

In the regional finals vs. Stanford, the Bears trailed 3-2 in the top of the ninth inning. Fortenberry, a .178 hitter with just three home runs to his credit this season, hit his fourth of the year to tie the game and force extra innings.

Then in the 12th, Mandel - forced into double duty as both a relief pitcher and designated hitter - hit his first bomb of the season for what proved to be the winning run.

All of which proves you can't always judge by numbers. However, in this instance, Baylor coach Steve Smith wants Leggett's analysis to be accurate.

"I hope so," Smith replied when asked if the key was his pitching vs. Clemson's offense. "I hope it comes down to a battle of the bullpens."

With Abe Woody (9-3, 2.79, 11 saves), Ryan LaMotta (5-1, 2.22), Tyler Bullock (1-0, 3.16) and Mandel (3-0, 2.05), the Bears have been able to go deep into the bullpen to secure games this season. All but Bullock have pitched at least 58 innings this season, meaning Smith won't hesitate to pull a starter if necessary.

Conversely, only Jeff Hahn (58 1/3) has that many innings for the Tigers' relief corp this season, and his numbers (3-1, 3.24) include a pair of starts.

Of course, the way Clemson's starters have pitched lately, getting innings for the bullpen has been difficult.

"Those guys (Steven Faris, Josh Cribb and Robert Rohrbaugh) have been great lately," Leggett said. "The stage is getting bigger each time out, and they have to keep giving us those kind of performances."

Faris (6-4, 2.56) will start for Clemson today, facing off against Baylor lefthander Trey Taylor (7-5, 3.43).

Taylor is the kind of pitcher which has given the Tigers trouble at times this season. Besides being lefthanded (Clemson is 8-9 vs. lefties), Taylor throws a decent, but not overpowering fastball, as well as a variety of off-speed and breaking pitches.

"I have to throw strikes with all my pitches, otherwise they're going to be hitting the ball all over the place," Taylor said. "But I'm confident that I'm going to pitch well. I don't say that to sound cocky, because I'm sure if you ask (Faris) he'll say the same thing."

Baylor is 11-5 in games Taylor has started.

Game Two's pitching matchup will pit Cribb (8-4, 3.22) against Baylor's Mark McCormick (7-3, 3.12). McCormick's fastball has been clocked at 100 miles per hour, and usually runs in the 95-98 mph range. He can be wild at times, having walked 55 batters in 92 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Cribb has thrown three complete games in his last four starts and has won five straight decisions.

If a third game is necessary on Monday, Clemson will start lefty Robert Rohrbaugh (8-2, 4.08 ERA). Baylor would be expected to start a lefthander, as well - Cory VanAllen (7-4, 4.00).

Today's game is scheduled for a Noon (Eastern) start, and will be televised both on ESPN and ESPNU.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. 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.

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