Well that didn't quite turn out as expected, but I was expecting us to stink it up somehow in Columbia.
The Clemson Tigers were eliminated from the NCAA Columbia Regional by Liberty -- yes Liberty -- without ever having faced the Chickens once. This makes 3 years since Clemson last reached the Super Regional round in the NCAA Tournament, having been eliminated by UCONN (at home, no less) and SC last year in the Regionals.
That is simply unacceptable for this program. Over the years we have been one of the elite programs in the nation, but over the last decade we have slipped considerably and look like a team that doesn't know how to win big games or do things correctly in the clutch. This is probably something that they inherit from their Coach, the most tightly-wound baseball coach in the NCAA. My opinion on Jack Leggett has been stated before, so there is no need to rehash it, but I don't see him going anywhere unless he chooses to do so. DRad is not going to make a change. The best we can hope for is for Brad LeCroy to continue to upgrade the talent to a point where the coaching makes less of a difference.
As for the series in Columbia, I know there is a lot of consternation over starting Erwin on Friday against Liberty and how that set us up for failure for the weekend. Looking at Liberty's lineup and RPI, I saw no reason to start Goose against them. Your #3/4 starter should be able to beat Liberty, and we've seen Erwin do well against very solid lineups in the tough ACC before. Therefore, I find no fault with the decision to start Erwin with the forethought of having Goose pitch against SC in the 2nd game on Saturday.
Given that Crownover struggled against Liberty, and that he appeared to not be ready for an extended outing, having him pitch against SC on any day would not have turned out very well. So, I just don't see how the starting rotation should've been handled any differently this weekend.
Where my issues lie is with the hitting coaching, and game decisions. This weekend, we also looked like we just couldn't field a baseball properly, and the team looked completely lifeless after Liberty got ahead. There was no energy in that dugout at all. They just tightened right up.
For years now we have had an overall poor approach at the plate in clutch situations. It seems that nobody teaches this team how to work a count -- if they learn it, its when they are Seniors, not before -- and they love to LOOK at a 3rd strike with RISP. Liberty's pitchers killed us because we went to the plate and swung at the first or 2nd pitch every time.
If a guy is mowing you down, you have to work the count and foul off pitches to get him tired. The gameday strategy has to be flexible enough to do that. If you want to start a game with the thought of jumping on the first pitch, thats fine, and it does work, but if he's getting you to hit weak grounders for 5 innings you better change the strategy team-wide. This ability to be flexible is something I haven't seen from us in a long time, at least in a big game.
Looking at a 3rd strike with runners on base is not excusable under any circumstances. It is something you learn in little league. If its close, you swing. You protect the plate, especially when youre down. Its like our hitters get paralyzed when they get something they werent expecting, and just stare at it. Its not like a guy is cutting fastballs and throws you a 12-6 curve, those are understandable at least. We just stare at a borderline fastball hoping that its a ball.
In summary, this was a very disappointing end to what looked like a promising season. This team does have improved talent; more than we've had in several years when you look at the entire roster, and they weren't expected to win 40 games. Its just that after the way this season went, I would've expected a much better performance in Durham and here in Columbia. We have another solid class coming in next season and we're going to see Jack run off a few guys to make room for them. I hope we get upgrades at the right spots and enough experience to overcome the lack of coaching.
Friday - Liberty 8-3
Liberty took a 3-1 lead in the 3rd inning and never looked back.
Clemson's pitching was just awful. Zach Erwin was shaky, allowing 4 hits and 3 runs in 2.2 IP. He was pulled for Meyer, who looked OK for an inning and then went to pot too. Patrick Andrews came in and gave up a 3-run HR in the 6th to Trey Wimmer, a Greenwood native who Jack didn't offer, and who killed us this weekend. After that our team looked completely dead in the dugout.
Liberty starter Josh Richardson cut us down and barely had to work up a sweat. In his CG victory, he gave up just 6 hits and struck out only 1 batter. He threw only 104 pitches since we didn't even try to work the count, getting weak grounders on the 1st or 2nd pitch of almost every at-bat.
Saturday - Clemson 10-2
We actually looked good at the plate against the 4-seed St Louis Billikans. They just didn't have the pitching to keep our bats quiet, and Goose controlled a quality lineup of hitters despite some lapses in control of that curveball.
Steve Wilkerson and Shane Kennedy both homered in the 3rd to give us a 3-1 lead. Brittle walked and Wilkerson followed with a 2-run shot, and Kennedy a solo shot right after. In the 4th, Kevin Bradley reached on an error and Slaton walked, and Wilkerson followed with another 3-run shot to make it 6-1. All were off St. Louis starter Nick Bates.
Goose (10-4) earned the win by tossing 6.0 innings, he allowed five hits, two runs, and five walks with two strikeouts. He became the first Tiger to total double-digit victories in one season since 2002, when Matt Henrie and Steve Reba both won 13 games. He's the first sophomore since 1991 to win 10 games. Schnell relieved him and pitched a 3-inning save.
Sunday - Liberty 3-1
We went right back to our Friday plate approach, slapping the first or 2nd pitch of an AB directly at someone, and were unable to get any hits with men on base. Six Tigers reached base to lead off innings, but we went a combined 1-for-14 with RISP. Of the 9 men LOB, 8 were in position to score.
Trey Lambert went 7 2/3 for Liberty, allowing 7 hits and just one run to us in the 4th. Closer Ashton Perritt looked vulnerable to blowing the save, but made it out unscathed in the 8th and 9th innings. We had 2 men on in the 8th and Shane Kennedy looked at strike 3 from Perritt with 2 outs.
Crownover was just cruising right along until the 4th, and then looked uncomfortable again. I think its a good thing for him going forward to shut down for the summer, and not risk injuring the surgically repaired elbow. If he is just fighting some inflammation, it'll be healed up next year and he should have a 10-win season himself in '14.
Clate Schmidt relieved him and looked shaky, but Andrews shut them down for the next 3 innings, allowing only 1 hit. We just couldn't capitalize on any opportunities.
We'll have a season review post within a few weeks to conclude baseball coverage on the 2013 season.