Monte Lee takes on former team as Tigers battle for postseason


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<span style=Photo by David Grooms">
Photo by David Grooms

Clemson baseball head coach Monte Lee said he’s not looking ahead to what the Tigers’ chances are for the ACC Tournament, the NCAA Tournament or even hosting an NCAA regional.

Lee and his team simply are focusing on the next day.

And that starts Tuesday with Lee’s former program, College of Charleston, in a two-game midweek series that is important for Clemson.

“Obviously, we would love to host. There’s no question about it. That’s really beyond our control outside of the next game,” Lee said. “We can’t look too far ahead and start talking about how we want to finish the season. The big thing for us is to play consistent baseball. We’ve got a tough week coming up where we play back-to-back midweek games, and we’ve stretched some arms out here, so it’s going to press us in the middle of the week against a good club to try to find a way to put together quality innings on the mound where guys can be stretched out and give us something in the middle of the week. But again, we’re at home, we’re at home for these two in the middle of the week. And then we’ve got to go on the road, and we need to play well on the road.”

One thing Lee has thought about is facing his former program. He played for the Cougars and then served as the program’s head coach from 2009 to 2015. Lee’s former assistant, Matt Heath, took over the College of Charleston program last summer when Lee was hired at Clemson.

“I’ve had time to think about it. The bottom line is whether it’s kids that I coached as an assistant, kids that I’ve coached as a head coach, I love them all,” Lee said. “That’s not going to change because we’re playing the College of Charleston. Those kids that are on the team at the College of Charleston, a lot of them I coached or recruited or was a part of recruiting, I love those kids. I love that program. I love the coaches. Two of the coaches that are there played for me, and the head coach and I are, he’s my best friend, one of my best friends off the field and in the game.

“So it’s gonna be a little different because of the relationship I have with those kids, but I promise you this, when that game starts, we’re going to do everything we can do to beat them, and they’re going to do everything they can do to beat us because this is my team. Clemson is where I’m at. This is my team, these my players, and we’re going to do everything we can to beat them, and they’re going to do the same thing to us. Before the game or after the game, I’m sure I’d like to say hello to some of those kids. They mean a lot to me, and I’ll always have those relationships, just like I would with any kid that I’ve coached.”

The Tigers are 31-16 overall and 13-14 in ACC play, moving up to seventh in conference play after taking two of three from Florida State and N.C. State the past two weekends. After the two-game series with the Cougars, who are 24-21, Clemson travels this weekend to Georgia Southern.

After a home game against Charleston Southern on May 19, Clemson wraps up the regular season at Notre Dame. The Tigers are 22-6 at home but just 9-10 on the road.

“That’s another thing, too, just looking at this week, in particular, we’re going to be challenged because we’ve got back-to-back midweek games, and that’s going to stretch the pitching staff out, as always,” Lee said. “And then we’ve got to go on the road, and we need to play well on the road. So to me, it’s not so much about looking over the next, however many games we’ve got left, I think it’s nine games left. It’s more about what do we do in the middle of the week leading into the weekend, this week, what do we do? We’ve had another good week, back-to-back pretty good weeks, and hopefully, we can carry some confidence and some momentum going into the midweeks.”

Lee said Sunday he hadn’t made a decision about the pitching rotation this week because, again, he was focused on the moment and not what was coming up next.

“I don’t like to think too far ahead,” Lee said. “As a baseball coach, you don’t want to go against the baseball gods and start thinking ahead. You just worry about today, but I’ve got some ideas as to kind of what I’d like to do at least in Game 1 of this week. We just need to talk it over as a staff and figure out who gives us the best chance to get a good start.”

He does like the fact that his team steps out of conference play this week before the final week of the regular season and then moving on to the postseason.

“Actually I like it. I like it, and I will tell you why, because you can try some things,” Lee said. “We can try some things. We can take a guy and maybe pitch him in a different role and try some things from a starting pitching standpoint and a bullpen standpoint and a lineup standpoint, whatever we want to do. It gives us the option, honestly, to say, ‘Ok, if we’re going to try something, this would be a good week to do it.’ If we want to try somebody in a starting role or out of the bullpen from a pitching standpoint … I think lineup-wise, we have an idea of what we want to do versus a righty, versus a lefty, but it gives us a chance to try some different things and be very aggressive with some of the moves we make leading into that last ACC series.”

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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