Tigers finally get to play

CLEMSON - Clemson's journey to the 2009 ACC Tournament actually began May 13 when they left for Raleigh to play N.C. State in a three-game series to close the regular season.

At the time, the 13th-ranked Tigers (39-17) figured after they closed out the season on Saturday, they would stay over in Raleigh that night and then head to Durham on Sunday to get ready for the ACC Tournament which began Wednesday and is being played at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The only problem, Clemson had no idea at the time it was going to have to wait five days and five games into the ACC Tournament before they would see their next game.

Turns out the No. 3 seeded Tigers finally get to play tonight when they take on sixth-seed Virginia at 8.

"We didn't find out until (Sunday) night around six or seven o'clock that we were not playing until Thursday night," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "That made it a little bit difficult by then to pack things up and come on home because we have a coaches meeting and we have to practice on the field Tuesday."

There was also a mandatory players' banquet the conference held on Tuesday as well, another reason that forced the Tigers to take an unwanted vacation in the North Carolina Triangle.

"Coming back home was surely something you think about," Leggett said. "You get to come back and sleep in your own bed for a few nights and come back on Wednesday and play Thursday. That might have been something that made sense, but we are up here."

To top things off, the Tigers will have to open the tournament against the only team they did play this year - No. 15 Virginia (39-12-1).

"It will be a good challenge for us," Leggett said. "If you play someone you have seen before you kind of know what to expect, but I'm sure it is difficult for them as well because they have not seen us pitch, hit and field and all of those things.

"It will kind of be a new experience for both us and we just know that they have been playing well and they have a good solid team so it is going to be a good challenge for us."

And since Clemson has a lineup that starts two freshmen and four sophomores, the majority of this year's Tigers were not around when Clemson played the Cavaliers in late April of 2007.

"It is the same for both teams," Leggett said. "We have played them in the past, though a lot of kids have never played Virginia."

Virginia is averaging 8.3 runs per game and is hitting .336 with 50 home runs. Jarrett Parker leads the team with a .380 average which includes 18 doubles, six triples, 15 home runs and 58 RBIs, while Dan Grovatt is batting .372 with six home runs, 45 RBIs, and 13 steals.

Tyler Cannon is hitting .366 with 16 stolen bases and Phil Gosselin has tallied a team-high 59 RBIs and 19 stolen bases as well.

The pitching staff has a 3.30 ERA and has thrown 477 strikeouts against 156 walks. Sophomore right-hander Kevin Arico has a team-high eight saves along with a 2.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. "They are real solid ballclub," Leggett said. "Offensively they have three or four guys that I think are all-conference caliber players. They have a freshman that that had a freshman of the year type season so it is going to be a challenge for us."

Because of the wait and the level of competition in the field, this year's ACC Tournament will be one of the biggest challenges Clemson has had in this tournament in recent years.

"It is going to be a good challenge because the other teams have a four-day period to get it done and a day's rest in between and somehow we don't play until the sixth game of the tournament so it is going to make for a more difficult road," Leggett said. "So we will have to stay focused and just go one game at a time.

"It's almost like playing for Omaha where you sit around for three or four days and you just hope you don't lose your rhythm and timing and all of those types of things that you have been gathering over the last couple of weeks."

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