And why shouldn't he think that way? After all, the Bears sport four relievers that have gaudy numbers, especially closer Abe Woody, who entered this Super Regional with a 2.79 ERA and 11 saves in 33 appearances.
In the end, however, it was relief appearances in relief by Clemson's Jeff Hahn and Robert Rohrbaugh, as well as some timely hitting by Texas native Stan Widmann late that lifted the Tigers to the 4-2 victory to take Game 1 in the best-of-three series Saturday afternoon at Baylor Ballpark.
"We're not oblivious to what's around us," Hahn said. "We definitely hear what people write around the country and talk about they might have the edge with the bullpen. You hear it, but you just try not to let it affect you. In our group, we know that we're capable of getting it done. We wouldn't have been in this situation to play for a chance to go to Omaha if we didn't have a bullpen that was capable, as well."
Clemson (43-21) is now just one win away from reaching the College World Series for the first time since 2002. It's a feat very few thought was possible after the Tigers started the season 15-13.
"Since the middle part of the season, we've had a confidence going and probably have been playing as well as anybody," Tigers coach Jack Leggett said. "It's because our young kids have grown up a little bit and our schedule is very tough. It just took them a little while for them to grow up and mature and become a better team, because of the toughness of our schedule."
Widmann, who wound up choosing Clemson over the Bears (42-22) against his parents' wishes, cracked a two-run single to right in the seventh inning on the first pitch of the game thrown by Woody that was ultimately the game winner.
"I was going up there swinging on the first strike," Widmann said. "It found a hole and it got through."
It turned out that a major part of Baylor's undoing was the fact that it never got the big hit when it need to. All told, the Bears left 14 runners on base and were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Moreover, Baylor loaded the bases in the third and seventh innings with no outs and failed to produce a single run.
With them loaded in the third, Clemson starting pitcher Stephen Faris got Reid Brees to pop up to first, enticed Kevin Sevigny to his a very shallow fly to center and struck out Seth Fortenberry looking to get out of the jam.
In the seventh with the bases loaded, Sevigny smoked a line drive off Hahn (4-1) that was snagged out of the air by second baseman Taylor Harbin. Fortenberry then hit a dribbler down the first base line, where Hahn grabbed it, twirled and threw it home for the second out. Hahn then struck out Jeff Mandel to end the inning.
"I thought particularly pitching wise, I thought they responded very well," Smith said. "I thought they did make some pitches when they needed to. I thought they got the ball down on guys when they needed to and made some big pitches. You've got to give their guys credit. When guys were on, I think they were making better pitches."
Hahn and Rohrbaugh, combined to throw 3.1 innings and allow just two hits. It was just the third relief appearance all season by Rohrbaugh, who earned his first save. Should the series go three games, Rohrbaugh will get the start on Monday.
"Early in the week, (pitching coach Kevin O'Sullivan) came up to me and told me there was a chance I might throw in relief and sure enough, he was right," Rohrbaugh said. "That was my role my freshman year, so I've had a little bit of experience with that. … I'll do it again. I'll be ready to go Game 3."
Early, though it looked as though Baylor wouldn't have to make the call to the pen as starter Trey Taylor mowed down the Tigers left and right. Clemson managed just three hits off him through the first three innings.
The one run Clemson did score was basically a gift from Taylor, who threw two wild pitches with Widmann on base to allow him to score and tie the game at 1-1 in the third inning.
Taylor was definitely on his game until the seventh rolled around.
Designated hitter Kris Harvey started the inning off by reaching base on an infield single to third. Travis Storrer followed with a push-bunt single that got past Taylor and rolled to the infield dirt to put runners on first and second.
Andy D'Allesio, who had hit the ball hard twice in his previous two at-bats, was called upon to bunt. And he did his job, by laying down a soft one that was fielded by catcher Zach Dillon, who threw it to third in hopes of getting out Harvey. But Harvey beat the throw to load the bases with no outs.
"It's a gamble play," Dillon said. "I peaked up just before I grabbed the ball and thought I could get him. I took a chance right there and it didn't work out for us."
Taylor exited and Woody was brought in to face Widmann, who upon the very first pitch cracked it to right to score Harvey and Storrer to give Clemson the lead for good.
Game 2 in the series gets underway at 4 p.m., with Josh Cribb (8-4, 3.22 ERA) getting the start for the Tigers and star right-handed pitcher Mark McCormick (7-3, 3.12 ERA) going for Baylor.
Smith, being very self-assured, likes his team's chances to still take the series.
"There have been a number of times this year where we've lost Friday's ballgame and turned around and won Saturday and Sunday," he said. "That's kind of the situation we're in.
"The bad news is we lost Game 1. The good news is that's not the last game. More good news is they've got to hit off Mark McCormick tomorrow. We'll see how it goes."
Leggett is taking a more diplomatic approach. He knows his team is good, but he also knows Baylor is capable of winning the next two games to take the series.
"We were fortunate to win today," he said. "They've got a good ball club and they're solid everywhere on that field. They're tough competitors, too. I don't think one team was tougher than the other."
However, that may be a different story come around 7 p.m., Saturday.
One Win Away
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