Tigers not overlooking Tennessee Tech

CLEMSON - Let's face it, who out there has already put Clemson into Saturday's winner's bracket game in the Clemson Regional?

Who can blame you? It's not like Tennessee Tech, top-seeded Clemson's opponent tonight (7 p.m.), puts enough doubt in your mind that it will beat the heavily favored Tigers. After all, the Golden Eagles had to win the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament just to get into the NCAAs.

But don't expect Tennessee Tech to go quietly into the South Carolina night. Clemson coach Jack Leggett doesn't.

"When a team comes off winning a conference championship they are on a high," he said. "They are playing their best baseball of the year. They have been playing well recently. They have confidence. That's what I expect to see. I expect to see a team come in here with confidence.

"We are probably going to have to play good baseball to win."

The Golden Eagles (30-22-1), a team just five years removed from a 13-win season, comes into this year's regional on a high after sweeping through the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament to earn the automatic bid. They have won eight of their last 10 games and are really enjoying their role as the underdog in this regional.

When they were sitting at 22-20-1 just a few weeks ago, no one even imagined they would be getting ready to play Clemson in the first game of the NCAA Tournament. But they have been happy playing the role of Cinderella to this point and they're hoping the clock doesn't strike midnight any time soon.

"Yeah, you could say that," Tennessee Tech head coach Matt Bragga said. "We don't look at it that way. It is definitely going to be a great challenge, but I think our guys are up for the challenge. We are just excited to be here."

Like the Golden Eagles, Clemson (40-19) is also playing some of its best baseball. The Tigers have won 15 of their last 20 games coming in, including last Saturday's dramatic 4-3 win over No. 5 national seed North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.

The Tigers are also back in the NCAA Tournament after a brief one-year absence that snapped the program's streak of 21 straight appearances. With that in mind, Leggett expects his ballclub's full attention being on Tennessee Tech and giving the Golden Eagles the same respect they would give Alabama or Oklahoma State if they were playing either one of those two teams.

"We weren't in the NCAA Tournament last year and we have a young team that, for a lot of them, is here for the first time and we are playing at home," the Clemson coach said. "If there is a lack of motivation, then I'm gone have to find some new players, so I think they are ready to go.

"These guys will be ready to play. They know it is a one game at a time type thing. They know they can't look past anybody."

Especially against a team that has found its rhythm and comes to Clemson expecting to win every game. A team like Tennessee Tech only has to look at last year's tournament, when Fresno State won its conference tournament to get in the field and then stunned everyone by winning the National Championship.

"We expect to win," Bragga said. "I don't think you should be coaching if you don't expect to win. We certainly have great respect for the teams that are here. They all have been too many regionals and this is our fourth. They have each been to the College World Series and we never have. So we have great respect for the teams that we are playing.

"We have not used (Fresno State) in any speeches yet, but our guys understand that once it is done by someone, then there are usually other teams that follow. It definitely is a good example for us."

And it's an example Leggett is sure to bring up to his team.

"I have been in a lot of NCAA Tournaments and that first game is probably the toughest one because you come out of the blocks and have to get your game going, but the other team is always throwing a pretty good pitcher," he said. "It is always a close ballgame so you have to figure out a way to make it swing in your favor."

And the first way to do that is to not underestimate your opponent, no matter who it is.

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