CLEMSON — In his first career start and second at-bat, Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware singled through the left side of the infield for his first hit and RBI.
Unfortunately for T.L. Hanna’s own, the rest wouldn’t come as easy his freshman season.
Platooning in left field and catcher, Boulware hit .214 with more strikeouts (14) than hits (12), driving in only one more RBI all season.
Fast forward a year, and the former Independent Mail Player of the Year has skyrocketed up the order, leading the 2013 Tiger bats.
“Just my coaches saying be more aggressive,” Boulware said. “Just get in there and don’t be timid — just take hacks. Just swing as hard as you can, and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.
“You have another at-bat coming.”
Boulware already has more at-bats than last season (57), atop the Clemson lineup in batting average (. 333), home runs (3), total bases (34) and slugging percentage (. 596).
The numbers have been impressive, but when they’ve come has also been integral in marquee wins.
First, he had to win the catcher job, battling with freshman Matt Reed in the weeks leading up to the season, and Boulware separated himself quickly starting in the last spot of the order.
The sophomore had three hits in six tries with two RBIs and two runs scored in the opening weekend. Trailing by a run in the rubber game against William & Mary, he got the Tigers going with a double, scoring, and again later in a 12-1 run over the final three innings to take the series. Boulware has started 14 of 15 games since.
His breakout performance came on the road at No. 9 N.C. State, with two home runs keying a 10-5 win in the opener, facing All-American lefty Carlos Rodon. Boulware reached base in seven of 10 plate appearances in the two victories in Raleigh, N.C., with five RBIs, four runs scored and three walks.
Over the weekend, Boulware, moving into the cleanup spot, was able to put a check mark in the “walkoff hit” category — lining a two-out RBI single to the right field gap in a 7-6 win over No. 22 Virginia. He finished the game a double shy of a cycle, after a triple in the first and a homer to lead off the third inning.
“He’s been swinging the bat pretty good,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said after the game. “He’s just been seeing the ball real well, knows the strike zone pretty good — doesn’t strikeout very much. (Boulware’s a) pretty tough out and felt good about him in that situation. He’s relaxed at the plate and feeling confident.”
Drawing that kind of praise is something Boulware could get used to.
“It’s fun making him happy,” he said with a wry smile. “He’s in a lot better mood and it’s a lot easier for us to play.”
As Leggett noted, the strikeouts have come down — just one every eight at-bats this season, compared to one every four in his freshman campaign. He also has seven extra-base hits compared to two in 2012.
Boulware is a part of a newcomer-heavy Clemson lineup, with junior college signee Shane Kennedy (designated hitter) and freshman Steven Duggar (right fielder) joining him among the team leaders in RBIs and extra-base hits.
The Tigers (11-7, 3-3 ACC), facing three ranked opponents in a row, have had their ups-and-downs as a young team, but split the four road games in the stretch (at N.C. State and South Carolina) and rank 20th in RPI after five weeks of baseball (per BoydsWorld.com).
“Our team is a lot more mature than their age,” said Boulware. “They’re a good baseball team. They play hard and they don’t get into the freshman mentality of getting nervous and we have a couple sophomores out there as well that are doing the same thing.
“It’s just a good team put together.”
Those lessons he learned last season are what he’s passing down as a leader to the 16 first-year freshman on the roster. Most importantly: “don’t overthink it.”
“Just get ready to do your job,” he said. “Everyone at their position has to do their job and obviously I’m a catcher and I direct stuff. But my job is to catch the ball and get it back to the pitcher and that’s all I’m thinking about.”