Back in Action

There will be a new and long anticipated look for the 19th-ranked Clemson baseball team as it enters its first game of the ACC Tournament today in Jacksonville as centerfielder Brad Chalk returns to action.

And it couldn't have happened at a better time as the Tigers hope to earn a home regional bid in the NCAA Tournament.

It's not yet certain just how much Chalk will play in the opening game against No. 5 seed Miami (35-20, 17-13 ACC) because head coach Jack Leggett wants to ensure that his star senior, who has endured severe back spasms, isn't jeopardized for the NCAA Tournament.

"How close he is to being 100 percent, or where he's at or what kind of rhythm he'll have when he comes back (is uncertain)," Leggett said. "But being there and being available I think is something that I think will be good for the team. But we just want to make sure whether he's truly available and what his role can be and how much he can play. So we'll just have to play it by ear."

Chalk is hitting a team-best .407 with a .531 on-base percentage, but he has sat out the last 15 games, which means his timing at the plate will likely be off a bit.

"It takes a while to get the rhythm back in this game," Leggett said. "But if anybody can do it, Chalk can do it. We just have to see how he is, because we'd like to have him for a regional. That's my biggest concern is to maybe get a little rhythm this weekend developed, but have him ready to go at closer to full strength next weekend."

If Chalk is able to play at full strength, that automatically gives No. 4 seed Clemson (36-20, 18-12 ACC) a boost offensively, which has been desperately needed all season. His leadoff capabilities are some of the best in the country.

"We have been missing him, no doubt about it," Leggett said. "We've been playing as tough as we can. … He's one of the best players in the conference, and he's one of the best players at his position in the country. We've missed his ability to be a leadoff man and get on base. We have been fiddling around with that deal.

With Chalk's return, it would appear Clemson has a better chance of winning at least two games in the new format of the ACC Tournament, which provides a minimum of three games for every team.

Under the new format, each team is in a group of four and those four teams will play in a round-robin setting like in the World Cup. After the three games for each team, the two teams with the best record from each group will meet for the conference championship.

After playing the Hurricanes at 4 p.m., today, the Tigers will play at 4 p.m., Friday against No. 8 seed Wake Forest, before meeting No. 1 seed Florida State at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

One big plus and the reason the coaches like the new format so much is that it prevents teams from wearing down their pitching prior to the NCAA Tournament.

"I like it. I like going in there knowing that you have three games definitely and the times are already set," Clemson shortstop Taylor Harbin said. "You don't have to worry about beating a team twice, stuff like that. … Having fewer games gives us more time to rest after. You don't have to throw as many people, and it cuts down on the number of innings that we have to play."

Many believe the Tigers have to win a minimum of two games in order to host a regional.

"You want to go in there and sweep the series, but if not you definitely want to win two out of three," Harbin said. "And I think that's what we have to do. … We definitely know we're going to have to do well in the ACC to get a chance to host a regional. That's something we want to do, but we feel if that doesn't happen we can play in any park and come out victorious."

Some even believe Clemson has to make it to the title game. Leggett isn't one of them.

"I don't think so," he said. "We finished second in our division and fourth overall. Our RPI is good and we've played pretty well down the stretch. I think we've got a chance. We just need to go down there and play well."

CUTigers.com Top Stories