Mr. Consistent

CLEMSON - When you first start playing baseball, one of the first things taught to you is being patient at the plate.

Your little league coach probably told you to keep your eye on the ball and wait for your pitch.

Clemson leftfielder Jeff Schaus carried that same kind of philosophy into this, his sophomore season with the Tigers. Few players in the ACC, and maybe the country, have the patience the Naples, Fla., native carries at the plate.

In 208 at-bats in the regular season, Schaus drew 37 walks and struck out just 18 times, while leading the team with a .440 on base percentage. Those are all numbers to be proud of, but at the same time those were numbers that drew some concern from the Clemson coaching staff early in the year.

At the time, Clemson coach Jack Leggett and hitting coach Tom Riginos were concerned Schaus was passing up on potential game-changing base hits or extra base hits for a walk. And though those walks helped in Schaus team-high 52 runs scored, they also may have hurt, especially in the first 21 games, his ability to push other runners across.

"In the beginning of the year, I was taking a lot of strikes and a lot of fastballs too," he said. "I just realized that you have to be aggressive at the plate. You are not out there to walk and take a lot of pitches."

It's a fine line because Schaus did want to all of sudden start striking out either. So he started taking extra time in the batting cages on his own, while also working a little more on his hitting with Riginos and first year assistant coach Michael Johnson.

Johnson, as many will recall, was part of the Tigers' powerful lineup that led Clemson to two College World Series appearances in 2000 and 2002. The former All-American knows a thing or two about hitting considering his 58 career home runs, .636 slug percentage and 213 career RBIs rank among the top 10 figures in school history.

"I have been working with (Riginos) and (Johnson) a lot," Schaus said. "(Johnson) from his experience here has really helped. He was a great power guy when he was here. He has had some great advice and has helped me a lot."

Johnson helped Schaus up his average from .257 with 3 home runs and 14 RBIs in the first 21 games, to .377 with 8 home runs and 29 RBIs in the last 35. And though all of those numbers increased, he did not lose his touch in watching the ball.

After drawing 20 walks in the first 21 games, he finished the regular season with 17 more drawn walks and only struck out 10 times. In the last 35 games, Schaus successfully got a hit in 30 of those games with hitting streaks of 8 and 7 at one time. In fact, he has hit successfully in 17 of the last 18 games for Clemson.

"I have just kept swinging and I have gotten stronger," he said. "I have a better approach up there. That has helped a lot and all of those things have factored into what I have been able to do."

What Schaus was able to do was put up First-Team All-ACC numbers, which he was voted on earlier this week by the league's 12 head coaches, while also providing more pop in a lineup that features power-hitter Ben Paulsen and Kyle Parker.

"I have been more aggressive lately and it helps having guys like Ben and Kyle behind you," said Schaus, who will bat third for 13th-ranked Clemson when it plays Virginia Thursday night in the ACC Tournament. "They are not going to walk me to put men on base when they are hitting behind me so I'm going to get a lot of good pitches to hit and I have, and hopefully I can keep that up and make better opportunities for both Ben and Kyle and all the guys."

And it has. It's no coincidence Paulsen's and Parker's numbers both started to improve once Schaus started swinging. And because of that so did the rest of the team's.

After a 5-4 loss to Georgia Tech on April 24, the team batting average stood at .291, but since then, Clemson (39-17) has posted 11 wins in its last 13 outings with a slugging percentage of .499. The Tigers are also averaging 8.2 runs and 11.9 hits during that same span.

Besides Schaus' .337 average, which includes 11 home runs and 43 RBIs, Paulsen leads the team with a .369 average and has 11 home runs as well and a team-high 54 RBIs. Parker, who is in a slump right now, has 11 home runs and 49 RBIs.

"We all knew we could do it," Schaus said. "It has taken a little while, but I think it's a good thing that we are hitting for power. That always helps because home runs can change games, but you don't just try to hit them, you go up there to get base hits first."


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