Red-Hot Smith Leading the Charge

CLEMSON – Even though he's Clemson's pitching coach, Kevin O'Sullivan knows a good hitter when he sees one. And as the recruiting coordinator for the Tigers, he knew he'd seen one three years ago while scouring the country for talent.

Marquez Smith was a senior in high school in Florida, and it was blatantly obvious to O'Sullivan the prep star was a serious prospect. So when Smith was finished at Daytona Beach Community College, O'Sullivan was there ready to entice him to come to Clemson.

"I first saw him in high school and even then, he was able to hit," O'Sullivan said. "But he's certainly gotten better over the last two years in junior college. We knew we were going to need another hitter in the lineup when we lost (Kris) Harvey and he's done a great job."

As Clemson makes its run toward an ACC regular season title and a push toward the College World Series, Smith has become one of the key components in that quest. But through the first half of the season, it appeared Smith's success might never happen.

Joining the Tigers with a reputation for his hitting prowess, big things were expected of him immediately.

However, though the first 38 games, Smith had an average of just .262, which is considerably low in collegiate baseball.

Everyone tried to guess the cause for his struggles at the plate. And many just assumed it was because he was being used as a designated hitter, something he'd never done.

Some players can't adjust to not playing in the field and just sitting on the bench waiting for their turn to hit and it seemed Smith was one of those players. But to his credit, he never once blamed his troubles on his lack of playing time.

"It was a little switch from not playing third every game, but like I said before, I don't think that was why I was struggling at the beginning," Smith said. "I can't really tell you why I was, but it was a little different."

Others thought the transition to major Division I baseball was the problem and that he might not be up to the task.

Once again, Smith said that wasn't the case.

"I wasn't nervous coming here," he said. "I played juco ball for two years. I didn't quite know what D-I ball was like, but I did have some kind of experience playing against players that went on to D-I."

Maybe it was because he was pressing and trying to do too much too soon.

"The type of person I am, I was getting on myself," Smith said. "That's just the type of person I am. Even if I'm hitting great and I make an out with two outs, I get on myself. I tried not to press and tried to stay positive, but I was definitely getting on myself a little bit."

O'Sullivan said it was a combination of the three.

"I think that's fairly normal for someone to struggle early," he said. "I think it takes a freshman maybe a full year to get used to the competition and often times a junior college player a half a year.

"In his defense, not playing every day probably had a little bit to do with that. He's used to playing defense. But he learned from a lot of the mistakes he was making and he's made some adjustments to how guys are pitching him."

Boy, is he ever. Since that rough start, Smith was hitting .420 over his last 13 games entering Tuesday night's contest against College of Charleston. The numbers he's put up during that time have been flat out ridiculous.

In those 13 games, Smith has knocked in 20 runs, scored 18 of his own, smacked eight doubles and belted six home runs. Oh, yeah, those games just happen to coincide with him being named the new starting third baseman.

His average has climbed over .300 and it seems there's no stopping him now.

"He could always hit and hitters are hard to find," O'Sullivan said. "It's hard to develop hitters. I think you have an easier time developing pitchers. Hitters are a little bit more natural.

"Overall, I think the first half was a huge learning experience for him and he's been doing a great job since."

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