CLEMSON – Clemson center fielder Thomas Brittle had an inkling preseason that the young-but-promising Tigers could make some noise.
But it wasn’t going to be easy, to start.
“I definitely knew we had the talent to pull off the winning streak we have,” the senior Brittle said. “With a team this young, we knew we would have some bumps in the road as they made the adjustment, but (they) have done a great job filling out the roles they’ve been asked to.”
No. 20 Clemson (26-11, 12-6 ACC) hit those bumps in March, going 11-9, but haven’t lost yet this month, a 10-game winning streak – the school’s longest since 2006.
The Tigers have hit .300, averaged 5.8 runs per and held a three run-or-less lead in eight of the 10 games in the stretch. Third baseman Shane Kennedy has hit a team-best .405 with five RBIs over the course of the run.
Senior reliever Scott Firth, who’s pitched 10 2/3 scoreless innings with two wins and two saves during the streak, says it starts with the look he’s seeing from his teammates.
Tigers stepping up as team
New hero each night
“Everybody on the team is showing up every day with that killer look in their eyes,” Firth said. “We can joke around and do whatever, and that’s what a team is all about. But we know as soon as it’s game time, they have that look that we’re getting that win.
“Doesn’t matter if we get up early or down early – tight game at the end. We’re just going to do what we have to – make big pitches, make big plays and come out of it somehow with a win.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett credits a “right attitude” as well.
“We got a mojo going where we feel like we can win,” Leggett said. “Some of the young kids are growing up. Some of the older guys are getting better and improving their game. We just keep getting better and better.”
Freshman shortstop Tyler Krieger and right fielder Steven Duggar delivered walkoff hits last week – Krieger an RBI single, after scoring the tying run the previous inning against Presbyterian College, and Duggar lifting a two-run shot to complete a sweep of Wake Forest Sunday.
All-totaled, eight different Tigers have had multiple-RBI performances in April.
“The biggest thing is we’ve always had someone else step up,” sophomore catcher Garrett Boulware said. “It’s like we’re playing as a team. No one is relying on one player to do it. All nine of us are contributing.
“Every day, somebody else is a hero.”
The Tigers take their show on the ACC road this weekend, where the run started (a 5-4 win versus No. 1 UNC), at Miami.
The Hurricanes (25-15, 8-10), with a young squad themselves, have had some uncharacteristic struggles, dropping 4-of-6 conference series thus far. Miami does, however, hold a slightly higher RPI (14) than the Tigers’ No. 16 mark.
They are hitting only .211 in ACC contests and are next-to-last in runs scored, averaging 4.5 a game. Designated hitter Alex San Juan is Miami’s lone hitter above .300 (.313).
For Friday’s 7 p.m. first pitch, Clemson right-hander Daniel Gossett (4-2, 3.04 ERA) makes the Tigers’ first start at Alex Rodriguez Park since 2008. In fact, no one on Leggett’s roster has played at Miami.
Tigers taking run a game at a time
Miami features an all-lefty starting rotation – Christian Diaz (3-2, 1.78), then Bryan Radziewski (5-1, 1.11) Saturday at 7 p.m. and Andrew Suarez (2-3, 3.86) in the 1 p.m. Sunday finale. Radziewski, a junior, is fourth in the ACC in strikeouts (55), while walking just 10 batters in 40 2/3 innings.
Clemson counters with lefty Matthew Crownover Saturday, who moved to 5-0 against Wake Forest last weekend, and right-hander Clate Schmidt (3-1, 4.07) takes the mound on Sunday.
Leggett holds an 11-7 record against Miami’s Jim Morris in ACC regular season play. They both rank among the top-six winningest active coaches – Morris compiling 1,379 wins in 32 seasons and Leggett 1,250 victories in 34 years.
“They’re always good,” said Leggett. “They have three left-handed pitchers, which will be a challenge for us. They’re in a lot of lower scoring games. I expect a really good challenge from them.
“Offensively, they’re not as explosive as they’ve been in the past, but they play well and they pitch well.”