You have got to give Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett credit. He saw the value in a brutal schedule with a young team way before I did. While I sat fretting and thinking Leggett over-scheduled this young team right out of postseason possibilities, the Tigers decided to get on a winning streak to prove their coach brilliant.
The Clemson baseball team concluded the regular season with a stunning sweep of Miami by a combined score of 30-9. The season ending sweep moved the Tigers into 2nd place in the final ACC Standings, and secured a NCAA Regional host bid in the process.
The road to this point has been anything but smooth.
After the first 10 games, Clemson stood at 5-5 with two losses to SEC power Auburn, two losses to instate schools Winthrop and Coastal Carolina, and a loss to East Carolina.
After 20 games, the Tigers were still treading water with an 11-9 record that included back to back losses to arch rival South Carolina. After 30 games, Clemson continued to scratch for wins at 17-13 that included back to back losses against SEC rival Georgia.
But starting April 8th in a home series with Duke, things started to click. Staring at a 15-13 record with real concerns about whether or not this team would finish with enough wins to earn an NCAA bid, the Tigers went on a tear.
Clemson would storm to the finish with a 22-6 record that included a series sweep of Duke, two convincing wins over South Carolina, and series wins versus Virginia and Virginia Tech. The magical run culminated in sweeps of Wake Forest and national powerhouse Miami to close out regular season play.
The team that was so young and struggling to tread water now is brimming with the kind of confidence that previous great Tiger teams had heading down the stretch.
Making it all the more remarkable was the Tigers accomplished so much with a brutal schedule. Clemson played only 29 times in Doug Kingsmore Stadium, with the other 27 games played at neutral sites or on the campus of opposing teams. As a point of reference, South Carolina played 33 times at home this year as opposed to 23 games away from home.
The Tigers non-conference schedule included 13 games against major conference foes in South Carolina (4 games), Auburn (3), Georgia (2), California-Irvine (3), and West Virginia (1). The Tigers non-conference schedule also included potential NCAA Regional teams Coastal Carolina (3), College of Charleston (1), East Carolina (1), and Winthrop (1).
The schedule’s difficulty certainly hurt the overall record, possibly costing the Tigers a chance of hosting a Super Regional down the road as a National Seed.
But the scheduling that hurt Clemson’s young team so dearly early in the season may have actually built the Tigers into a mini-monster for the postseason. Last week you would have been hard pressed to find a team any hotter in the ACC heading into the tournament.
There is little question the schedule could have hurt Clemson’s chances of hosting because the overall record is below that of some of the top ranked teams in the country. And there is no question this team could have racked up well over 40 wins had the Niagara’s and Longwood’s of the world been on the schedule. It most certainly would be nice to sit here at end of the season and worrying about who is coming to Clemson for a regional and super regional instead of wondering IF those regionals will indeed be played in Clemson.
While all of that would be nice for us, the Clemson baseball team benefited from the difficulty of that schedule and are a more experienced and battle-tested team because of it.
While that schedule caused some headaches, it may have given this team enough fortitude to make a run. While we sweated, Coach Leggett showed patience.
And that patience has paid off with a team firing on all cylinders and with all the confidence in the world. The curse of that schedule seemed destined to remain a curse until recently. The sweep of Miami and the earning of that #2 seed in the ACC was a blessing few of us, including myself, could have predicted in early April.
In that respect, I sure am glad that Coach Leggett is smarter than me.
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