Leggett, Baseball Tigers Preparing For 2007

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - Even someone who hates losing as much as Jack Leggett can appreciate what the 2006 Clemson baseball team achieved.

Yes, the team fell short of its goal of winning the national championship - going 1-2 at the College World Series in Omaha last June. But that's about the only goal Leggett's Tigers missed. After winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles, Clemson swept through the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals to gain the CWS berth.

Tyler Colvin's walk-off grand slam home run to win the first game of the Super Regional over Oral Roberts will stand as one of the all-time great highlights in the history of Clemson baseball.

And now, on the cusp of the 2007 season, Leggett can look back with a bit of pride even as his burning desire to win pushes him forward.

"I think you remember all the good things after a while. You don't remember the bad things," he said early Thursday. "Unless you win the national championship every season is going to end with a loss, and that's never easy. But in the end you remember the high points, and you use them as motivation heading into the next season."

When the Tigers begin play on Feb. 16, Leggett's team will again be ranked among the nation's elite. Clemson is ranked as high as No. 2 in the preseason polls, and returns a solid core of players from the team which advanced to Omaha for the first time since 2002.

That core starts with the return of seniors Andy D'Alessio (first base) and Marquez Smith (third base). Both were taken in last year's Major League Baseball draft, and for a while is was considered a surety that each would leave Clemson for the professional ranks.

But circumstances eventually dictated that both would return to the Tigers, giving Leggett's lineup some much-needed power. D'Alessio blossomed as a junior, setting career highs in batting average (.312), home runs (23) and RBIs (85). Smith, a junior college transfer, opened the season as the team's designated hitter before taking over third base later in the year.

He finished with a .291 average, 10 home runs and 48 RBI.

Add to the duo the third-year keystone combination of second baseman Taylor Harbin and shortstop Stan Widmann, and the Tigers return their entire starting infield.

"Getting Quezzie and D-Lo back was huge for us," said Leggett. "I don't know that I've ever had my entire starting infield back from one year to the next. And with the way Harbin raises his game to another level, and Widmann's improvement on offense this fall will be a big boost to our offense."

Clemson is charged with the task of replacing the offense of 2006 left fielder Tyler Colvin, who left a year early after being drafted in the first round by the Chicago Cubs.

His offensive production - 356 with 22 doubles, five triples, 13 homers, 70 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases - won't be made up by one person. Freshman Addison Johnson is penciled into left field and the leadoff spot in the batting order, something Leggett seems to be looking forward to.

"He's a Casey Stone-type of leadoff hitter," Leggett said, recalling one of his former players. "I think the fans are going to enjoy watching him play."

Junior Brad Chalk returns to center field, giving the Tigers one of the best middle of the field defenses (joining Harbin and Widmann). D.J. Mitchell and redshirt freshman Wilson Boyd will see time in right field.

Behind the plate, Doug Hogan "has improved tremendously," said Leggett. Alex Berg is also pushing for at-bats at the catcher's spot.

And that leaves the pitching staff, where last year's entire weekend rotation - Stephen Faris, Jason Berken and Josh Cribb - are gone. Also gone is postseason hero Sean Clark, who found out just a week ago that his attempt to return for a graduate season wasn't going to happen.

That leaves senior P.J. Zocchi, junior David Kopp, and sophomore lefty Ryan Hinson at the front of the rotation for 2007. Junior college transfers Alan Farina and Brock Schnabel will also compete for starts, and the bullpen is anchored by a number of strong arms - most notably lefty closer Daniel Moskos.

All in all it makes for another talented Clemson team that Leggett hopes will make another run to Omaha in 2007.

"That's the thing about getting there," he said. "Once you've been to the College World Series you don't say, 'Okay, now we can take a few years off.'

"Once you've been there, you want to do everything you can to get back."

Clemson opens the 2007 season with a three-game series vs. George Mason, beginning Feb. 16 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

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