I was a a little cynical about this year's baseball team after last season's performance but after this series, I am very excited about the potential of this year's team. It's still early but I have a lot more confidence in this team after their performance this weekend in the series win against the Coots (aside from the Saturday game in Greenville). Timely hitting, pitching, and overall effective defense helped Jack Leggett's Tigers take the regular season series from the Chickens for the first time in five years. This series win was also critical for the head man himself. If the Tigers failed to win the series this weekend, Coach Leggett would've been squarely on the hot seat. While there isn't as much pressure on Jack Leggett as there was before, this Tigers team still has a lot to prove. In the preview I stated that in order for Jack Leggett to remain the head coach of the Tigers beyond this season, these two things would have to happen. 1). Win the series against the Gamecocks. 2). At least host a regional/make it to a super regional. Leggett has already accomplished #1 but I have backtracked on what I think should happen for #2. Even with the impressive performance by the Tigers this weekend, I now think the Tigers have to at least make it to a Super Regional to justify keeping Coach Leggett next year. Hopefully, that scenario will play out and the Tiger Baseball program will continue to have stability.
Here's how the Tigers beat the Gamecocks in a regular season series for the first time since 2010.
Pitching: This was one of the two x-factors that allowed the Tigers to win the series this weekend. Even though it was his worst start of the year, Matthew Crownover pitched effectively enough for the Tigers to win on Friday night against a powerful Gamecocks lineup. This was also the first game that Crownover gave up a run and allowed a walk but he was still able to pick up his second win of the season nonetheless thanks in no small part to the run support he received. Freshman reliever sensation Alex Schnell relieved Crownover after five innings and finished the game while holding the Chickens scoreless. Zack Erwin threw another quality start for the Tigers on Saturday in Greenville but took the loss as the Tigers were only able to muster one run. Erwin threw 6.1 innings on Saturday. Freshman Paul Campbell finished the day for the Tigers by throwing 1.2 scoreless innings. But the story of this series was the complete game gem thrown by Brody Koerner on Monday in Columbia. Koerner threw a complete game shutout, only allowing four hits while striking out seven as the Tigers won 7-0 in Columbia to take the series against the Coots. The pitching staff has been the surprising strength of the team this year especially the bullpen. Pitching Coach Dan Pepicelli has been a target of a lot of criticism including from myself but the success of the pitching staff so far in the early part of the season I think says a lot to the job he has done with the young pitchers this offseason. Last year this team had barely any depth behind Daniel Gossett and Matthew Crownover aside from a few relievers. It's a different story this year as the Tigers have three reliable weekend starters and a couple of talented freshman relievers including Alex Schnell and Paul Campbell. If the Tigers can keep this up for the rest of the season, this will be a dangerous team.
Hitting: The Tigers struggled with timely hitting and scoring runners during Opening Weekend but this weekend was a different story. The Tigers put up eleven runs on Friday with eight of those runs coming off home runs by Chris Okey and Weston Wilson who hit two home runs on Friday which gave him three for the season. Saturday was a different story from Friday as the Tigers left nine men on base, scoring one run while mustering seven hits. On Monday, the Tigers were able to score seven runs with five of them coming in the last three innings to win the series. This effort from the Tigers was more than enough to support Brody Koerner who held the Gamecocks scoreless through nine innings on Monday. While the hitting has been overall inconsistent this year for the Tigers, this weekend was encouraging. However, the Tigers will need to stop stranding so many men on base to have a successful season.
Fielding: In what has been one of the weaker links for the team this year and the past few years, the Tigers only gave up two unearned runs this weekend. Errors were the story for the Tigers in the series last year against the Gamecocks but this year there were less and only a few that were costly. The infield defense has been spotty on the left side. That side can still use improvement this season. Clemson committed three errors this weekend compared to six committed by the Gamecocks.
What to take from this series: In what is considered the biggest rivalry in College Baseball, the Tigers came up big against a perennial CWS contender. The Tigers now have bragging rights in football and baseball for the foreseeable future. If you ask any Tiger or Gamecock fan, they will tell you that football and baseball matter the most when it comes to the rivalry between the two schools. Lets enjoy this series win to go along with the much needed victory over the football Gamecocks in November. It always feel amazing to beat the Chickens from Columbia!