After an 0-2 Regional performance in 2014 that preceded the losses of star pitcher Daniel Gossett and power hitting DH/C Garrett Boulware, Clemson baseball didn't enter 2015 season with especially lofty expectations. Some had wanted Coach Leggett gone before the season began, but a sit-down meeting at the end of 2014 was said to be productive and a plan to get the program turned around was hatched.
In that plan was a focus on Jack's image as well as a player council to make sure any issues the players had were addressed. By all public accounts, those items worked out nicely as players seem to show a lot of support for their beleaguered manager and Jack's overall demeanor towards the media has been better. The other steps from that plan were to hire sports psychologists and visit and learn from other successful coaches around the country. The latter two steps were focused more specifically on winning, and that is where the team fell woefully short this season.
The Tiger's finished a shade above .500 overall and in conference play at 32-29 (16-13) and made the NCAA tournament for the 39th time, but were unable to reverse the negative trend as they won fewer games than a season ago and again failed to win an NCAA tournament game or advance in the ACC tournament.
The Tigers had talent and showed it in flashes, but often came up short in the big moments, played sloppy, and found ways to lose games they had no business losing. No example is better than with the bases loaded in a 4-5 against Presbyterian. Of course, you know what happens, or if not you could guess - a game ending double play.
Clemson's season concluded this weekend with losses to #2 seeded Arizona State and #4 seeded Pepperdine. Clemson never faced top seeded Cal State Fullerton. There were plenty of bad moments this season as well as some happy ones, so we discuss those and then discuss where the program may go next.
We already mentioned the loss to Presbyterian, but that wasn't the only school in South Carolina Clemson would lose to this year. They dropped one of three to South Carolina, which isn't too shabby, but managed to lose to five other in-state programs (including Presbyterian). Winthrop, Coastal Carolina, Wofford, and Charleston Southern were the others. Overall, the Tigers were just 6-6 against in-state opponents.
They were also swept in the season series against the Georgia Bulldogs and lost home series against Notre Dame and Wake Forest. They did not sweep a three game ACC series until the final series of the season, which was the moment that earned them entry in the NCAA tournament.
The final series of the year was in Tallahassee against Florida State. Inexplicably, the Tigers mustered their best effort of the year and swept their heavily favored rivals to put themselves in position to make the NCAA tournament. By that point, hope of hosting a regional and even realistic hope of advancing to Omaha was dashed so while the sweep was by far the most impressive accomplishment during the season, the most enjoyable came earlier.
Crownover, who would end up being Clemson's shining star, got the Friday night start at home against South Carolina. He didn't have his best stuff, but the offense gave him excellent support and the Tigers scored an 11-4 win over the Cocks. They'd drop the neutral site game 1-4, but bounced back to take the series behind a complete game shutout from Brody Koerner. Koerner would eventually be dropped from the weekend rotation and the Gamecocks ended up being a much worse team than expected, making the series win far less impressive. Nonetheless, after losing four straight season series to the Cocks, going 3-9 over that span, there's no complaining!
If we're honest, the team didn't provide much reason to get excited. After the SC series, they immediately lost to Winthrop and then got off to a poor start in ACC play. The one source of consistent enjoyment was watching lefty Matthew Crownover pitch. We published a player profile on him earlier in the season, and still expect he'll at least have a good chance to sign with a major league team after being drafted this June. He should be picked in the first 10 rounds, and we'll be rooting for him to be selected in the first five. He's been a phenomenal representative for Clemson.
I penned a piece entitled Clemson Baseball Approaches a Crossroads, Needs Decisiveness. In it, I wrote:
"Realistically, it would require an unlikely turn of events for Clemson to get into the NCAA tournament, and an even more unlikely turn of events to advance past Regional play or win an ACC Tournament Championship. If those goals are not reached, Clemson shouldn't feel obligated to wait another year, regress further from elite status, and extinguish even more fan interest."
Clemson did find that unlikely turn of events to make the NCAA tournament when they swept FSU in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, they failed to reach the other two goals: advancing past regional play and winning the ACC. In fact, they failed to even reach the Regional or ACC tournament finals compiling a 1-4 record in the most critical five games of the year.
From the perspective of winning games and winning championships, this season was a bust. The players represented themselves and their University well, but unfortunately were unable to accomplish the on-the-field goals we as Clemson fans have come to expect, but have not enjoyed in a half-decade.
Leggett had the opportunity to buy himself additional time with assistant coaching changes after last season, but declined. Given the trend of the program and the disappointing season and postseason this year, Jack's seat couldn't be hotter.
As the work week begins, expect a meeting between Radakovich and Leggett which could very well be their last. If it is, we'll bring you as much information as possible about the possible coaching replacements, and I strongly believe you'll be very pleased to see how many great options Clemson has to get the baseball program back to their historic winning ways.
Please vote in the poll and join the conversation about what's next for Clemson baseball in the comments section below.