Tigers matured as season went along

CLEMSON — Jack Leggett can't pinpoint the exact game that his Clemson baseball team started to grow up, but he knows when he started to see the signs.

Coaching one of the youngest teams he has ever had in his 16 seasons at Clemson, Leggett started to see signs when his young Tigers beat archrival South Carolina in a midweek game on April 8th to end a six-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, and then calmly took two of three games from No. 5 Miami that following weekend.

Since then, No. 13 Clemson has won 18 of its last 23 games and has put itself heading into the ACC Tournament, which starts Wednesday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C., in a position to not only host a regional in next week's NCAA Tournament, but maybe land one of the field's top 8 seeds. If that happens, then the Tigers (39-17) will be in line to host a Super Regional should they get past the regional round.

"They are getting more confident," Leggett said. "They have 56 games under their belt so they should not feel like (first year players) now. They are playing better. They are feeling it more and they are starting to understand how it works and understand the competition and all that.

"It has been great to watch them keep improving and I think you have some real exciting players to follow in the next few years here at Clemson. I like how some of the seniors have come through for us and their leadership qualities. The team in general is starting to mature as a group and is starting to understand and everyone understands what their roles are."

But there are not too many seniors, at the scene anyway, that's leading this Clemson team. At the plate and in the field, the Tigers are led mostly by four sophomores, three juniors and two freshmen that helped a lineup improve from hitting .285 as a team in 2008 to .302 this year.

Now senior Trey Delk — who leads the team with a 2.41 ERA and a 4-1 record — has helped the pitching staff, along with fellow seniors, Clinton McKinney, Matt Vaughn and Ryan Hinson, guide young pitchers like Chris Dwyer and Scott Weismann. Overall, the Clemson pitching staff has a 3.58 ERA, which is down from last season's 4.76.

"The difference this year is we have more depth on this team," Leggett said. "We have more depth pitching wise, we have more depth fielding, in the outfield and everything. That is the difference between this year's team and last year's team."

And the Tigers are also scoring more runs this year. Last year, they managed just 6.2 runs per game, but this season they're averaging 7.1. And that might be the biggest reason why Clemson will be back in the NCAA Tournament after a year absence.

Since the South Carolina game on April 8th, the Tigers have averaged nearly eight runs a game and have scored eight or more runs 14 times during that stretch.

"So far we are really pleased with how we have played recently," Leggett said. "I think offensively we are starting to come together and had some big innings in each one of those ballgames."

Now Leggett hopes his team can continue that Thursday night when Clemson plays Virginia at 8 p.m. in its first ACC Tournament game and then throughout the postseason.

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