CLEMSON – Baseball is pretty fun for the No. 22 Clemson Tigers right now
The youth-laden squad has won seven in a row, stretching back to a 5-4 victory in extras at No. 1 UNC last week.
This week, the Tigers (23-11, 9-6 ACC) have surrendered late-inning rallies in both midweek contests – only to break ninth-inning ties to keep the run alive. Five of the seven overall have been decided by three runs or less, in a 2013 season where 19-of-34 games have gone that way (Clemson is 13-6 in them).
“We’re really excited to play every night,” Tigers freshman shortstop Tyler Krieger said, who had the walk-off single Wednesday against Presbyterian. “I love coming to the ballpark and seeing everybody in the clubhouse and coming out playing. It’s been good.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett’s challenge is to keep that mindset, balancing praise and criticism.
Young Tigers battling
“Any time you start winning seven in a row, you’re playing more consistent and things are coming together for you,” Leggett said, “so you have to keep on working at it. Harp on things that need to get better and compliment and continue to do the things we’re doing well.”
Krieger and left fielder Tyler Slaton, who were both mired in the .100s batting for over half the season, have been integral in the recent success.
Krieger is riding a team-high five-game hitting streak, hitting .385 with five RBIs over the last 10 games and nine hits in his last 13 at-bats.
Slaton has improved in average from .125 after 16 contests to a team-leading .341 (85 at-bats or more), scoring four runs in the last five games batting leadoff.
“He’s got some confidence,” Leggett said. “He’s a confident guy. He’s a competitive battler. Sometimes he (would) get a little uptight, but now he knows he’s our guy.”
And Slaton’s attitude seems to be indicative of the team as a whole right now.
“I like our battle – I like our grit,” said Leggett. “We hang in there. We’re getting a little tougher. We’re getting a little more experience every time out.”
This weekend’s opponent, Wake Forest (19-17, 4-11), sits in a tie for fourth place in the Atlantic Division with Maryland, but carry a 4-5 road conference record into Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
The Deacs swept Clemson in Winston-Salem, N.C. last season. Wake Forest starting pitching allowed just two earned runs that series, but luckily for the Tigers, none of that group will be on hand this weekend.
Ranking 11th in team ERA (4.53) in the ACC, the Demon Deacons will throw right-hander Matt Pirro (3-4, 5.87) in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. game, righty Justin Van Grouw (3-4, 4.54) in Saturday’s same first pitch and then they’ll go lefty for the Sunday 1 p.m. start, senior Austin Stadler (5-2, 2.39).
The Tigers will counter with a small rotation shake-up.
Ace right-hander Daniel Gossett gets the ball in game one (4-2, 3.04), but with freshman lefty Matthew Crownover’s recent success, he moves to the No. 2 spot for a Saturday start and freshman righty Clate Schmidt (3-1, 4.04) falls into a Sunday role.
In his last six starts, Crownover has surrendered only five walks with four wins and no losses in 30 innings pitched.
Going into the series, Clemson holds an RPI of 16 and trending up after cracking Baseball America’s top-25 for the first time this week. At the midpoint in conference play, the Tigers have an opportunity to position themselves for one of the 16 NCAA regional spots – four of their final six series at home and three against teams with sub-.500 ACC records.
To carry their winning streak to double-digits this weekend, Krieger says the Tigers can’t get caught looking ahead like that though.
“It’s been good for our confidence,” Krieger said. “At the same time, I think what we’ve been doing really well is taking it one game at a time. So we’re just going to come out here and focus on the next game and not worry about this streak of seven wins.
“Just focus on eight – not nine-ten-and so on.”