High Expectations As Tigers Open Baseball Season

by - Correspondent -
Jarrod Schmidt will open the season as Clemson's No. 1 starter.

CLEMSON -- To have high hopes entering a baseball season is a rite of spring. But at Clemson it goes beyond hopes. At Clemson, it's about expectations.

When the Tigers open the 2001 baseball season today (3 p.m.) at Doug Kingsmore Stadium against the University of Richmond, the long-range goal will be what it is every year for Jack Leggett's team a berth in June's College World Series.

Those expectations were realized a season ago, thanks to solid performances up and down the lineup, not to mention strong starting pitching. It's no secret, then, that to a man Clemson's players and Leggett say returning to Omaha rests on more of the same.

This team definitely has all the tools we had last year, plus a little more, said senior center fielder Patrick Boyd. We don't have a lot of the headline pitchers (Ryan Mottl, Scott Berney) we had last year, but we do have a lot of depth.

Out in the field we've got guys who can hit the ball one through nine (in the batting order), so its going to be exciting.

Part of the reason for the preseason excitement was Boyd's decision to return to Clemson for his senior season. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth round last June, Boyd turned down the team's offer and chose to stay in school.

But the euphoria surrounding Boyd's return has been tempered somewhat by a preseason stress fracture in his back. Though not considered serious, the hairline crack in Boyd's L-5 has kept him out of practice for two weeks, and has his status for this weekend's series up in the air.

I'll play if I can, he said. Right now it only really affects me on my righthanded swing.

Otherwise, Clemson made it through the month-long preseason workout regiment relatively injury-free. The solid nucleus of returning position players is a luxury for Leggett, especially in the infield, where Clemson may have its strongest unit in his eight-year tenure.

At third base I believe (junior) Khalil Greene is as good a defensive player at that position as anyone in the country, Leggett said. As good as Jeff Baker was at shortstop last year as a freshman, hes even better this year. He s added 30 pounds of muscle and has really quickened his swing.

And I don t know that weve had a better defensive second baseman here than Ryan Riley.

Leggett's comments could be excused for the usual coachspeak, except that his players have done nothing to detract from those statements.

Greene was a virtual vacuum at third and was among the team leaders in most offensive categories last year. As a freshman Baker led the team with 10 home runs and was steady at short, while he and Riley teamed to form the best double-play combination in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Joining Boyd as a returning starter in the outfield is senior leadoff hitter Casey Stone, while sophomore Michael Johnson will split time at first base and designated hitter with Jarrod Schmidt.

Schmidt, who was 9-0 in the starting rotation last year as a freshman, will open the season as Clemson's No. 1 starter after making a remarkable recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament during summer ball last July.

Kevin Lynn is expected to start Saturday's game, with Steve Reba slated for Sunday.

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