Clemson is a contender again

With a roster that consisted of new names and faces that belong to guys like John Nester, Brad Miller, Jason Stolz, Chris Epps, Jeff Schaus and Chris Dwyer, no one really knew what to expect from a Clemson team that was coming off its first non-trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1986.

With a top 10 recruiting class and star players like Kyle Parker and Ben Paulsen coming back, no one really knew how long or if these group of Tigers could pull things together enough to be relevant in the ACC and national championship race again. However, after sweeping N.C. State over the weekend and winning 14 of their last 17 games, this year's Clemson baseball team has more than made itself relevant again — it has made itself a contender.

At 39-17, including 19-11 in the ACC, the Tigers earned themselves a No. 3 seed in this week's ACC Baseball Tournament in Durham, N.C., and more than likely have secured a regional bid for the upcoming NCAA Tournament as well. Clemson opens the ACC Tournament Thursday at 8 p.m. against No. 6 seed Virginia.

"I think our young team is maturing and I saw it coming about midway through the season," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said Monday. "I think we are starting to play with a lot more confidence and a lot more maturity.

"Young kids are starting to grow up so I'm seeing a lot of good things as we head into the ACC Tournament, although it will be one of the more competitive tournaments that I have been around because there is so much parity this year."

And that's why Leggett says Clemson isn't resting on its laurels. The Tigers see a home regional right in front of them and as they learned from last year, when they thought they did enough to get an NCAA Tournament bid, nothing is guaranteed.

"There is no relief on my part because that is not determined until Sunday," Leggett said. "Now I do think we have put ourselves in good position. We have won 14 of the last 17, our RPI is strong, our strength of schedule is one of the top (eight) in the country and we have 19 (ACC) wins which is as many wins as anyone in our conference, which is a really strong conference.

"We have a lot of things that favor us. Like the past history of hosting at Clemson. All of those things, I hope, will come back to help us and I think our kids have earned it on the field.

"I don't think we can tell what other people are thinking so hopefully we can make a statement, make a splash in this tournament and solidify it even more."

If the Tigers make a big enough splash and find away to win the ACC Tournament, they might do more than just nail down a regional, they might earn their way into one of the top 8 seeds, which means they will be in line to host a Super Regional should they win their regional.

"I think if we are able to win this tournament, win four games and get to 43 wins and win the ACC Championship then I think you have to consider us for that with the way we have played," Leggett said. "That would make it like 18 of the last 21 we would have won.

"But that's looking ahead and my focus is on Virginia and we have to win that one first."

But it's hard not to look at that scenario because it would increase Clemson's chances greatly to get to Omaha for the College World Series considering it is 21-1 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium since the current NCAA Tournament format began in 1999.

"We are assured three games so our job is to win those three games and give ourselves a chance. I'm not looking too far ahead," Leggett said.

But Leggett instead is looking back at what his team has accomplished, which is quite remarkable considering only one player, left fielder Jeff Schaus, was voted on the Coaches All-ACC First-Team Monday. Even though the Tigers were as young as they have been at any point under Leggett, they did not lose more than two games in-a-row all year.

"That is something we are proud of because it shows we have consistency and that we are able to shut things off when things don't go so well," he said. "It shows that we have some quality pitching because you have to throw somebody out there after a loss or two in-a-row, and you have to have someone to shut it down.

"It shows we have some good pitching and it shows we have some consistent kids and motivated kids that go out there and play hard every day. We have had a few bumps in the road here and there, but what team hasn't across the country." Top Stories