It has been 5 years since Clemson hosted a Regional. Tonight postseason baseball returns to Doug Kingsmore Stadium and Clemson takes on Western Carolina to open their Regional play. The Western Carolina Catamounts won the SoCon Championship this year and got an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Clemson and Western Carolina have already faced off twice this year with Clemson winning both games. Western Carolina did provide a bit of a challenge though. Clemson won the games 10-8 and 7-6(10).
TV and Radio: ESPN3/Tigercast
Expected Starters: Charlie Barnes (Clemson) vs. TBA (Western Carolina)
Western Carolina Record (Conference): 30-29 (15-9)
Clemson Record (Conference): 42-18 (16-14)
Clemson coach Monte Lee decided to go with his best starter today. There was some talk in the media about Lee going with Barnes or someone like Alex Eubanks, but this is certainly the safe decision. Even though Western Carolina's success against Clemson came against midweek starters, they can cause some damage. The team is hitting .304 and blitzed through the SoCon Tournament with a single loss.
The Catamounts are led by Matt Smith who is hitting a fantastic .387. The first baseman also has a bit of power with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs on the season. He's going to be someone Clemson will have to deal with on offense, along with pretty much the entire Western Carolina outfield. Garrett Brown, Bryson Bowman, and Kramer Ferrell are all doing pretty well on offense. The trio is hitting .325, .336, and .332 respectively, much higher averages than what we can find on Nebraska and Oklahoma State. Obviously these numbers can be tempered a little bit by the competition these guys have faced, but make no mistake about their ability. They will hurt Clemson if given half a chance.
On the mound Western Carolina is likely to send their top starter out against Clemson. Bryan Sammons has a 5.51 ERA through 17 starts which isn't great, but it is good enough for an 8-3 record this year. His record does seem to hint at being hittable though and that is good news for Clemson. The entire pitching staff has an ERA of 5.96, perfect for Clemson's excellent lineup.
This is certainly a winnable game and arguably it should be a comfortable win. But postseason baseball is always a funny thing and Westren Carolina has the bats to hurt Clemson pitching. Ideally Clemson comes out hot early and can get a big lead to take the life out of Western Carolina. Add in a long start by Barnes to save the bullpen and Clemson would be in a fantastic position for Saturday.