CLEMSON - A baseball program that has won 14 Atlantic Coast Conference championships, made 12 trips to the College World Series and is fifth nationally in NCAA Tournament appearances with 37 isn’t used to being overlooked. But those who look over the preseason ACC baseball predictions have to lower their eyes to find the Tigers’ spot on the grid.
Following last year’s 35-28 campaign - one that saw the Tigers finish third in the ACC Atlantic Division with a 16-14 record and ended with a loss to South Carolina in the Columbia Regional – Clemson is again pegged third in their half of the conference.
If the slight is bothering players on the 2013 club, however, they certainly aren’t showing it.
“Coming in, we’ve seen all of the rankings, but none of that stuff really matters to us,” junior first baseman Jon McGibbon said. “It’s about us and no one else, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Scott Firth, a senior right-handed pitcher, goes a step further.
Young players 'a cut above'
“We’re definitely expecting to go to Omaha and compete for a conference championship and compete for a national championship,” Firth said. “The expectations are as high as they can go. There’s no point in setting the bar any lower than that. We think that we have the guys and the talent to get it done, so we’re working hard for that goal.”
In the early practices leading up to the Feb. 15 opener against William & Mary at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, the team has appeared loose and excited about getting started.
Even coach Jack Leggett seems to be having fun with a crew that features a combined 26 freshmen and sophomores.
“We have a really good incoming freshman class,” Leggett said. “They’ve been working extremely hard and have been really good examples for the older guys. They don’t take anything for granted and have worked extremely hard. I’ve been impressed with them.
“With that said, we have some good guys coming back. We don’t have a whole lot of home runs back from last year’s team. The bats have changed and the game has changed a little bit, and you have to change with the times.”
These Tigers are expected to play a lot of small ball and run the bases, and the players have bought into that philosophy. And they’re also confident that they can do it well enough to finish much higher than third in their division.
“I kinda like the fact that people think we’ll fly under the radar,” senior infielder Steve Wilkerson said. “We think we have a lot of young guys who are going to come in and help us immediately, so being picked where we’re picked is fine. We look forward to being underdogs.”
The series against William & Mary begins with a 4 p.m. start on Feb. 15.
The teams play against on Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. and the series ends on Sunday, Feb. 17, with first pitch at Doug Kingsmore Stadium set for 1 p.m.