It is a bit of a histroic thing this weekend as Clemson baseball opens the season against Maine. Gone is legendary coach Jack Leggett. In his place, former College of Charleston head coach Monte Lee. It is just the third coaching change over the past 60 years. Coach Lee's challenge is not to just maintain the level of excellence expected from Clemson baseball, but to return them to the heights we say in the 90's and early 2000's.
As for this team, it is hard to say what expectations should be. Based on talent it seems like this should be a team that gets into the NCAA Tournament, but as a 3 seed, not as a candidate to host a regional. But if things come together quickly then we could see a return to the level of play we've come to expect out of Clemson baseball. If the pitching gels, the hitting becomes looser, and the errors are reduced it could be an excellent season for Clemson baseball. But before we get too far ahead let's look at this weekend's series against Maine.
The Maine Black Bears spent 2015 struggling to get to .500. The Black Bears finished 24-28 with a 10-10 conference record. This included 2 losses to Clemson, 10-1 and 5-4(14 innings). The Black Bears had a team OBP of .357 and a team slugging percentage of .375. The pitching was not much better with a 4.86 team ERA and an opponent batting average of .300.
After losing several key players to graduation, Maine will look to seniors Brett Chappell and Brenden Geary to lead the offense. Chappell had a .369 OBP last year as well as a .421 slugging percentage. Geary had similar numbers with a .378 OBP and .416 slugging percentage. These two lead the returning players in offensive production and Clemson will want to limit their ability to put the ball in play this weekend.
On the mound for the Black Bears will be sophomore ace Justin Courtney. The youngster had an excellent freshman year with a 3.24 ERA over 72.1 innings of play. Courtney struck out 4.73 players per game last year and only gave up 3 home runs all season. Clemson is going to have to be disciplined at the plate and take advantage of any mistakes. Logan Fullmer and Charlie Butler seem to be the Saturday and Sunday starters based on their statistics. Their ERAs of 3.75 and 4.80 respectively are the best on the team after Courtney.
For Clemson, sophomore Charlie Barnes will get the start Friday night. The Sumter, South Carolina, native beat out for the Friday spot, and Schmidt will get the start Sunday. Jake Higginbotham will round things out with the start on Sunday. Alex Bostic will be the designated closer for now and a variety of relievers including Alex Eubanks and Ryley Gilliam.
In the field we'll see some familiar names start, but in different positions. Eli White will reprise his role as Clemson's starting shortstop, but Weston Wilson will shift to his left from 3B to 2B. Hunter Renwick appears to have made the move from 2B to 3B to replace Wilson. Coach Monte Lee also announced that first base would be filled by Chris Williams. In the outfield Chase Pinder will start in center field and Seth Beer will get the start in right field. This leaves left field and the DH positions to likely be filled by Reed Rohlman and Drew Wharton in some combination.
First pitch is at 4pm EST on Friday with Saturday and Sunday games starting at 2pm EST and 1pm EST respectively. All games can be found through the Clemson website, audio and video is available.