Berken Takes the Mound

OMAHA, Neb. – It was very late into Monday night before Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett finally announced that Jason Berken is Tuesday's starting pitcher. But it really doesn't matter who pitches if the offense isn't revived from the dead.

In 17 College World Series innings, the Tigers (53-15) have produced runs in just one, the eighth inning against Georgia Tech. Also, they've had the leadoff hitter reach base just twice.

"So far, the pitchers have done a very good job of not letting us execute the way we want," said Clemson designated hitter Herman Demmink. "We just haven't made the adjustments that we need to."

If those "adjustments" don't happen against Cal State Fullerton Tuesday, the season that had so many big dreams will come to an abrupt and disappointing end.

"One more loss and we're out of here," Demmink said. "We're familiar with these situations. We realize that no matter what, we have the veteran players to do it. But we realize that it's going to be tough."

The Titans (49-14) will start Lauren Gagnier, who sports a 14-5 record, with a gaudy 2.52 ERA. In 125 innings pitched, he has 103 strikeouts and amazingly only 23 walks.

He had a bout of food poisoning Sunday and is coming off throwing a few innings against North Carolina Friday night. If there was ever a chance to put up some good offensive numbers for the Tigers, the time would be now.

"I don't want to be negative, but we can't have two leadoff batters (reach base) in 17 innings," Leggett said. "It's not a negative thing, but it's a challenge."

This is where not having a big bat like Travis Storrer's is starting to show. Before the senior went down with wound up being a broken foot on the final day of the regular season, he was batting .321, with nine home runs and 45 RBI. He also had 10 doubles and a triple.

His replacement, freshman D.J. Mitchell, has done a solid job in the outfield, but his bat has been lacking of late. He has just one hit in his last 10 at-bats, and is 5-for-26 over his last eight games, with three of those hits coming in one game.

"We've been playing well without (Storrer)," Leggett said. "But it'd be nice to have him. In these situations, he's always been good. He just can't run like you want him to rund down the first baseline to stay out of double plays and stuff."

Berken (9-3, 2.70 ERA) will do his best to shutdown the Titans and actually make it past the first inning.

In three of his last four starts, Berken has pitched just the first inning.

Against Wake Forest in the final game of the regular season, he lasted just one inning before the rains came. The rains also came against UNC Asheville in the Regional opener after he had pitched just one inning. Then against Oral Roberts, he sustained a broken nose and slight concussion in a collision at first in the first inning.

He has faith that such bad luck won't be the case Tuesday.

"Obviously, I want to pitch in Omaha," Berken said. "It's been a dream of mine to pitch in Omaha since I was a kid."

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