MYRTLE BEACH - After having his freshman class blitzed by Major League Baseball's June Draft the last few years, Jack Leggett isn't taking any chances. The Clemson head baseball coach figures if he gets to keep his talented newcomers in 2005, he might as well play them.
So, when the Tigers open the new college baseball season today vs. West Virginia (2-0) at the Baseball at the Beach tournament in Myrtle Beach, three of those freshmen will be in the starting lineup.
What's more, they'll all be starting up the middle - the area of the field where a team's defense must be at its best:
Stan Widmann at shortstop, Taylor Harbin at second base and Brad Chalk in centerfield.
Throw in junior transfer Adrian Casanova behind the plate, and Clemson's middle infield will be untested as a group in the truest sense.
"I don't know of another team in the country that will do what we're doing with these freshman," Leggett said. "But these kids can play, and they've earned the right to be here."
The three-day, round robin event will be held at Coastal Federal Field, home of the Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
Along with Clemson and West Virginia, Coastal Carolina and East Carolina round out the tournament field. The Tigers will face Coastal Carolina Saturday and East Carolina Sunday. Both games have a first pitch set for 4 p.m.
But today's matchup, as one might expect, is foremost in Leggett's mind. He'll send right hander Josh Cribb to the mound this afternoon against WVU righty Shawn Miller.
Cribb pitched well for Leggett out of the bullpen a year ago, but is being counted on to help anchor Clemson's rotation - a rotation that will be missing junior Jason Berken, one of the Tigers' 2005 team captains, but a pitcher who will miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John (elbow ligament replacement) surgery.
Miller pitched 4 1/3 innings in WVU's season-opening win over Norfolk State, allowing just one run on one hit, striking out five and walking four. He is one of 10 of West Virginia's top 12 pitchers returning from a year ago off a club that finished 23-29.
"Miller's a tough kid. He'll battle us," Leggett said. "They've got a couple of kids who hit the ball well. So this is going to be a nice test for us opening the season."
Today's game can be heard on Clemson radio station WCCP, 104.9 FM beginning at 11:45 a.m. The broadcast is also available through the station's website - www.wccpfm.com.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.