Regional in Tigers' sight

CLEMSON — When Clemson's baseball team knocked off fifth-ranked Miami on April 12th, many thought the Tigers, who have been one of the more dominant teams in college baseball the last two decades, were back.

And they appeared to be right when No. 17 Clemson followed the Miami series by whipping a pretty good Western Carolina team 11-1 and 13-2 early that following week. The Tigers were winners in five out of six games at the time and had scored 57 runs during that stretch.

But then something happened on the way back to the top of the ACC standings that still have people wondering, which Clemson team will show up? Will it be the one that soundly beat two top five teams in Miami and Georgia Tech or will it be the Tigers that scored just five runs and had 14 hits in back-to-back losses at Virginia Tech?

That's the same Hokies team that currently sits last in the ACC's Coastal Division standings.

"Great teams always play great and they never take weekends off. That was kind of a step back at Virginia Tech," Clemson left fielder Jeff Schaus said Friday. "But you have to think about the way we responded against Georgia Tech and we have a challenge here this weekend."

That challenge really should not be much of a challenge as Clemson (30-15, 14-10 ACC) gets back into action Saturday after taking five days off for final exams. The Tigers will host Maryland at Doug Kingsmore Stadium for a three-game set.

First pitch for Saturday's game is 6:30 p.m.

The Terrapins (22-24, 6-18) are tied for last with Wake Forest in the ACC's Atlantic Division and are 1-51 lifetime at Doug Kingsmore Stadium and have not won there since 1992.

But that is the challenge for Clemson. Can it turn the pressure up against a team it beats with regularity and is last in the division standings?

"We still feel like we always have something to prove," said Schaus, who is hitting .331 with 8 home runs and 30 RBIs.

Clemson coach Jack Leggett wants his team to prove it can keep the momentum of last week's 4-1 mark going.

"We have to be able to be consistent and be able to maintain the rhythm that we had before exams," he said. "It's a tough order because you have five days in which you have not played and haven't seen live competition.

"The kids have been focused on something different so you have to get yourself back in the fold."

Nothing helps a college baseball team get back in that fold than the prospects of being a regional host when the NCAA Tournament rolls around in a few weeks. Clemson is right in the mix after winning 9 of their last 12 games.

"We are all excited about that chance because it is a realistic opportunity," Schaus said. "It's in our hands."

Besides winning games, what also benefits the Tigers is the fact they currently rank third nationally in strength of schedule and have an RPI ranking of No. 8. Also, they have played more top 50 teams than any team in the country (29) and have posted a 16-13 record in those games.

Then there is Doug Kingsmore Stadium and the 6,217 Clemson fans that would love to see their team in a regional game. Plus keep in my mind, Clemson ranks in the top 10 nationally every year in baseball attendance.

"We lost a lot of close games to a lot of good teams, which is tough, in a short period of time. We lost a lot of one-run games in the ninth, but we knew we could play with anyone," Schaus said. "We had not clicked yet, but I think we are all starting to get on the same page and we are starting to hit.

"Once we started doing that we started to realize that we do have a chance to host and maybe even reach a super regional too."

Another possible shot in the arm for the Tigers' run at the regional — of their remaining 11 regular season games, only two teams UNC-Wilmington (24-17) and the College of Charleston (22-16) currently own winning records, and seven of those 11 games are at Doug Kingsmore.

"We realize that if we do what we are supposed to do, then we will have more opportunities to play in front of these great fans," Schaus said.

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