The goal remains the same: Omaha

CLEMSON - The ping of aluminum will soon be echoing through Clemson with Friday set as the opening day of baseball season.

Coach Jack Leggett returns all but one starter in the field from last year's team that qualified for the Tempe Super Regional. The pitching staff, which had the nation's fifth-best ERA (3.68) in 2009, will be under the direction of first-year pitching coach Dan Pepicelli.

"We took some strides (last year) from where we were the year before," Leggett said. "It was nice to get back to the Super Regional, but we want to get back to Omaha and play for the National Championship.

"That's our goal from day one."

Clemson's pitching staff was hit hard by graduation and the Major League Baseball Draft. Trey Delk, Chris Dwyer, Ryan Hinson, Graham Stoneburner and Matt Vaughn are all gone.

"We lost some good pitchers. We lost some good arms. We lost some kids who stepped up and did some good things for us on the mound," Leggett said.

He hopes the blend of youth and experience on the mound will work well with Pepicelli, who was brought to Clemson after nine seasons as head coach and pitching coach at Saint John Fisher College in New York.

Back is junior lefthander Casey Harman, last year's recipient of the Stowe Award for the team's most valuable pitcher. Harman has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in school history (5-1).

Also contending for weekend starting spots are sophomores Scott Weismann and Will Lamb and senior Justin Sarratt. Weismann didn't allow more than one earned run in any of his 17 outings last year. Lamb, a lefty, can also provide depth in the outfield and at first base. Sarratt has been a steady spot starter throughout his career.

Leggett mentioned three other right-handers who will push for starts in his preseason meeting with the media: redshirt freshman Kevin Brady, freshman Dominic Leone and sophomore David Haselden

And of course, there's also a question mark at closer.

"We're going to have to figure that whole thing out before too long," Leggett said. "I've said every year that it takes 15-20 games to figure out your line-up and to figure out your pitching staff, and what their roles are going to be."

In the field, there are more answers than questions.

Junior John Nester and sophomore Phil Pohl will compete for time at catcher. Nester was much better at the plate, batting .304 with five homeruns and 33 RBIs while Pohl hit .194 in 67 at-bats. Nester will also be available to provide depth at first base, which was left vacant by Ben Paulsen.

There are several contenders for innings at first base, including junior Kyle Parker, freshman Richie Shaffer and Lamb.

"(Shaffer) is a really strong right-handed hitter who reminds me a lot of Jeff Baker's swing in loft and extension--those types of things," Leggett said. "He's a good athlete. He can play third and first."

Senior Mike Freeman returns to second and sophomore Brad Miller is back at shortstop. Freeman is a career .309 hitter and a solid glove in the field, making just seven errors last year. Miller started every game a year ago, stole a team-high 16 bases and set a single-season school record for walks (53). Jason Stolz is back at third base after starting 42 games at the hot corner as a freshman.

In the outfield, senior Wilson Boyd, junior Jeff Schaus and Parker are all back.

Boyd, who can play in all three spots, is the only player on the roster who was around for Clemson's last trip to Omaha. He's a career .308 hitter with 34 doubles, seven triples, 16 homers, and 120 RBIs in 173 games. Schaus, the likely starter in left, was Clemson's only First-Team All-ACC player in 2009. He hit .320 with 14 doubles, 13 homers, 50 RBIs and had a .424 on-base percentage. Parker, who'll start in right, reached 25 home runs in just 103 games, quicker than anyone else in school history.

The Tigers open the season on Friday with Miami (Ohio) at 4 p.m. from Kingsmore Stadium. On Saturday, Clemson will play Michigan State in Greenville before heading back to Clemson to close the weekend against Furman.

"I think they got a taste of it last year. I'm excited about their motivation, work ethic--their attitude has been great…I think we've got something good ahead of us," Leggett said.

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