After ending the season on a 9 game winning streak and sweeping their way through the ACC Tournament to claim their 10th ACC Championship (most by any ACC program) the Clemson Tigers Baseball Team will host its first regional since the 2010-2011 season. Joining the Tigers in regional play will be the 2nd seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys (36-20), 3rd seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers (37-20) and 4th seeded Western Carolina Catamounts (30-29).
The Tigers will be looking to change their past history of poor regional performances, as they have gone 5-10 in regional play over the past five years (never advancing) and have gone winless in their past two regionals (2015 in Fullerton, CA and 2014 in Nashville, TN) being outscored 41-17. The last four regionals have been played away from home as the last time Clemson hosted a regional was back in 2011 after advancing to the finals in the winner's bracket, only to lose twice to 2nd seeded Connecticut in the final two games to be sent home early. The last time that Clemson has advanced out of regional play was in 2010, a team that advanced to the College World Series.
With such a poor performance in the past in regional play, is there a reason for hope for the Clemson fan base? Absolutely, and he goes by Monte Lee. Coach Lee has exceeded expectations in his first season as skipper of the Tigers and has the Tigers winning in the clutch. The reason why? He has the Tigers playing calm. Senior Catcher Chris Okey confirmed Lee's calming presence over the weekend. "We're playing calm, cool and collected like we have all year."
Want to see the impact that a coach's perspective can have on the win-loss total? Look no further than this ball club. Clemson is 161st in the NCAA in Batting Average (.271), 235th in the NCAA in Fielding Percentage (.961), and 112th in the NCAA in Earned Run Average (4.33). With average to below-average performances in all of these categories, Monte Lee has Clemson sitting with the #7 National Seed.
While the calm, cool and collected Tigers should be optimistic about their regional outlook, there is one potential decision that needs to be made that could impact the entire post-season for Clemson and has the potential to send them home early.
They CANNOT hold back their Friday pitcher because they are playing a #4 seed.
I know that it is tempting. imagine, having Alex Eubanks mow down the Catamounts in Game #1 and have Friday and Saturday pitchers Charlie Barnes and Clate Schmidt ready to go with a team already in the winner's bracket. But the old cliché "one game at a time" was meant for occasions just like this. You cannot get to the winners bracket without winning on Friday first, so no plans for Saturday should be made.
Unfortunately, Clemson fans don't have to imagine the ramifications of this situation, as they saw the impact first hand in the 2013 Columbia Regional. Clemson (#2 seed) went up against Liberty (#3 seed) in a game that former coach Jack Leggett and others believed that they would win with ease. As a result, rather than starting Friday starter Daniel Gossett or even Saturday starter Matthew Crownover, the Tigers opted to send young Lefty Zack Erwin to the mound. The result? Clemson lost game #1 with their best pitchers riding the pine, and found their way to the loser's bracket, where they would eventually be eliminated.
Clemson has the luxury of a Saturday starter pitching EXTREMELY well right now in Clate Schmidt, to go along with Friday starter Charlie Barnes, but before you even think about saving them, you need to remember there are no bad teams in the field of 64. Keep in mind, Clemson has already played its opening round opponent twice this season. The first game, the Tigers pulled out a 10-8 win and in the second game, the Catamounts came to Doug Kingsmore stadium and it took a late inning 5 run rally for Clemson to win the game in extra innings. Western Carolina is no pushover and cannot be treated like one.
I am excited about the promise of this team in postseason play and I don't doubt that Monte Lee will have his team focused on Friday and ready to go. As fans, why don't we help them out a little bit? Rather than looking forward to a potential Super Regional rematch with rival South Carolina, let's think Friday First. A regional championship starts with a win on Friday and a win on Friday starts with Friday starter Charlie Barnes.