CLEMSON — When Brad Miller suffered a broken finger in mid-March, it quickly became apparent that Clemson was a different team without its junior shortstop.
Since Miller’s return to the field in early April, the Tigers have fulfilled their promise as one of the ACC’s best teams, ending the season 25-5 with wins in seven straight weekend series.
Monday, the ACC’s coaches recognized just how good Miller has been this season. The Windermere, Fla., native was named ACC Player of the Year, the first Clemson player to receive the honor since Khalil Greene in 2002.
“A lot was going through my mind back then,” Miller said of sitting out. “ I was ready to get back on the field with everyone. That’s the main thing, you can’t really control that injury. It can happen to you like it did to me.
“ The biggest thing was, I was just excited, when I got healthy, to get back out there and play again. I didn’t take it for granted, and wanted to get back out there and hit the ground running.”
Miller on ACC POY Award
Led the ACC with a .431 batting ...
Miller leads the ACC with a .431 batting average, 61 points higher than second place. Despite missing seven games with the broken finger, he has 21 stolen bases, tied for fourth in the ACC. 18 of his 72 hits have been for extra bases, and he’s driven in 44 runs.
Clemson (39-17) will enter this week’s ACC Tournament with a focus on securing a home NCAA Tournament regional; the Tigers have the nation’s No.9 RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com.
Several other Tigers were also honored Monday. Sophomore first baseman Richie Shaffer was a first-team All-ACC selection alongside Miller. Senior left fielder Jeff Schaus, junior DH/catcher Phil Pohl and junior center fielder Richie Schaus were second-team picks.
Since returning from the finger injury, Miller is hitting a white-hot .491.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” he said. “That was my mindset coming back and I think it’s helped with everything, on the field, on the bases, just being aggressive and confident in myself. I feel really comfortable up there and I’m just trying to carry it over, not give away any at-bats, take one at-bat at a time ,focus on that, lock in and grind out at-bats.
“ It’s a long season; you’re going to have to stretches where you’re feeling better than others, but you’ve really just got to take it one at-bat at a time and grind it out.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett agreed.
“I just think his frame of mind has been more aggressive,” Leggett said. “When you are aggressive like that, good things are going to happen for you. He’s doing a good job swinging the bat, playing good defense for us, he’s got good leadership out on the field, that presence we needed. He’s comfortable, in a rhythm right now.”
Despite missing seven games with the finger injury, Miller’s numbers are improved almost across the board.
Leggett on ACC POY Miller
In 49 games, he has four home runs, 44 RBI, 21 steals and he’s slugging .605. Extrapolated over 69 games, they’d all better or smash his numbers from 2010 (eight HR, 49 RBI, nine steals, .560 slugging).
Most importantly, he has only 10 errors with a .951 fielding percentage, well down from last year’s 32 errors and .894 fielding, which raised questions about whether he’d even keep his job this spring.
“I’ve been through a lot,” he said. “Last year, it was going through some struggles, being able to put it together, make a run to Omaha. This year I’m trying to be more mature as a player, be more consistent every day, try and win some games. I feel I’ve definitely matured a lot being here. That’s the whole process of coming to college. You want to grow up on the field as well.”
And while he’ll likely be a high selection in June’s MLB amateur draft, his Clemson career is far from over.
“We’re playing as a team,” Miller said. “We’re battling against all the teams of Clemson’s past. We want to live up to that tradition and carry it on, because we know they’ve started something special here.”