Tigers Act Like No. 1

CLEMSON – As the No. 1 pitcher for the No. 1 team in the country, a lot of anticipation surrounded the return of Jason Berken and his Clemson teammates to the baseball field. And neither disappointed as Berken and the Tigers lived up to expectations in the season opener Friday night.

In his first trip to the pitching mound in 74 games that spanned 631 days, Berken was filthy. He threw 66 pitches to strikeout a career-high nine James Madison hitters, while allowing no runs, two hits in five innings of work to help lead Clemson to the 8-1 victory in the first game of a doubleheader.

Game two saw junior pitcher Stephen Faris allow just one hit in six innings of work as the Tigers grabbed the 3-0 victory in front of 5,617 fans at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

In the two games, Clemson cranked four home runs, three of which came from the bat of left fielder Tyler Colvin. He hit two in the first game and one in the second.

All in all, it was the perfect way for the Tigers to begin play in 2006.

"We've been waiting for a long period of time (to play)," said Clemson coach Jack Leggett. "The atmosphere was great. It was the best crowd we've had for an opening day since I've been here.

"Now we've just got to relax and be ready to play tomorrow."

Even though six Clemson pitchers combined to strikeout 23 hitters, while allowing only one run on five hits, the story of the pitching staff was the return of Berken.

The last game he played was May 26, 2004. Since then, he's had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and gone through extensive rehabilitation.

Prior to his injury, Berken was the team's ace. Nearly two years later, he's in that same role.

"I felt incredible," said Berken, a junior. "It was quite an adrenaline rush and the atmosphere was great. I was too excited to hold anything back."

That extra rush was evident in the first inning when in threw 15 pitches and struck out the side.

"I'm not into stats, but nine strikeouts is a plus, but the main thing is just to be back," he said. "My arm felt great and I was hitting my spots and keeping the ball down. I had a dream that something like that might happen. I was just so excited to be out there."

Had it not been for Berkin, Colvin's hitting prowess would have been the headline grabber. In his career, Colvin had hit only seven home runs in 117 career games, five of which came last year in 65 games.

Friday night, he had three home runs in six at-bats.

"They just kept giving me good pitches to hit," he said. "I got a lot stronger in the weight room even though I'm 10 pounds lighter than last year. My bat speed got quicker."

Another plus on the offense was the emergence of designated hitter and second baseman Marquez Smith, a junior college transfer. It was hoped he could fill some of the void left by last year's designated hitter, Kris Harvey, who led the nation with 25 home runs.

In the two games combined, Smith went 2-for-5 with four runs scored and a solo home run. That's a nice way to start a career at Clemson.

"I know that my main goal is to go out and do the best I can," Smith said. "Luckily I got good pitches and I did something with them."

The only downside to Friday night came when star second baseman Taylor Harbin came out in the first game after tweaking an already tender hamstring. Though he didn't cause any damage to it, Harbin will sit out Saturday and some of the week as a precaution.

Other than that, there was no doubt the Tigers are loaded and one of the best in the nation.

"Being No. 1 in the nation, we're like let's go out there and prove it," Colvin said. "We were ready to play."

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