Commentary: Leggett Believes Tigers Still Have Chance To Win In Omaha

by - Correspondent -

OMAHA, Neb. - It was a loose, smiling Jack Leggett which met the press prior to Tuesday's practice at Creighton University, one day after his team was shut out in a 2-0 loss to North Carolina in the College World Series.

As loose as Leggett can be facing elimination, anyway.

Previous defeats on this stage have been cause for Leggett to circle the wagons in Omaha. And that's not to say the veteran head coach has lost any of his intensity this time around.

He still swung the fungo bat with a purpose, barked at players to get moving and was noticeably impatient as the interview process dragged on. It was clear Leggett came to Creighton's facility to work.

But still he held court, answering question after question from the media. And as the session continued he allowed his sense of humor to show through - once sending a pack of 10 or more media members into convulsive laughter at some wisecrack he offered to one of them.

So should the Tigers fall short of a miracle run out of the loser's bracket this week in Omaha, no one can blame it on the team - or coach - being too tight.

"We've got work to do, and we've got to focus (today) on trying to work out some of our problems," said Leggett. "But we still have to play relaxed, play our style of baseball. That's how we can be successful."

Unfortunately, Leggett's style of baseball has been severely hampered by the Tigers' sudden offensive swoon.

Putting pressure on the opposing defense with the stolen base, the bunt or the hit-and-run is impossible if your leadoff hitters aren't getting on base with regularity. In 18 innings so far in Omaha, Clemson's leadoff hitters have reached base just three times; none of them came in the loss to the Tar Heels.

The difference?

Instead of having to face a Tyler Colvin or Andy D'Alessio with runners on base and perhaps having to groove a fastball for fear of a runner in motion, opposing pitchers have had the luxury of facing Clemson's sluggers with no fear of multi-run retribution.

Except for the eighth inning against Georgia Tech last Friday, anyway.

"I challenged our offense," Leggett said. "We've got to make better adjustments. We've got to get the leadoff hitters on base so we can play our aggressive style of baseball. I wasn't being negative with them. I just laid it out there for them as a challenge. We've got to do better if we want to come back and win this tournament."

And make no mistake. Leggett still believes Clemson can win the 2006 College World Series.

Yes, the task is formidable. For starters, there's Tuesday's elimination game with Cal State-Fullerton and their No. 2 starting pitcher, Lauren Gagnier (14-5, 2.52 ERA).

If the Tigers are lucky enough to get past the Titans, they would then have to beat North Carolina twice on successive days, and have to wade through a pair of first-round picks in this month's MLB draft to do so - Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller.

But Clemson's pitching is rested, thanks to Stephen Faris' complete game in the loss to the Tar Heels. Leggett will pick from the trio of Josh Cribb, Jason Berken and P.J. Zocchi to start Tuesday's game (5 p.m.).

"I'll go with whoever gives us the best chance to win," Leggett said. "Not only in that game, but the best way to line up to win this tournament. We still have to think ahead a little bit if we're going to come out of this thing."

With that, Leggett was off.

The hitters were headed to the batting cage, the infield at the mercy of his fungo bat. There was work to be done.

Until the final of all final outs is recorded, Leggett figures, there always will be.

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