Clemson baseball is no stranger to facing ranked opponents this season, but next up is a trip to No. 1 North Carolina’s Boshamer Stadium this weekend.
The Tar Heels have dropped one game all season (23-1, 7-1 ACC), atop the conference in team ERA (1.72), second in team batting average (.316) and third in home runs (19).
Meanwhile, the Tigers have taken on top-25 teams three of the last four weekends, going 4-5 against them with a series win on the road at No. 9 N.C. State.
But Clemson (16-9, 5-4) must also shake back-to-back disappointing finishes, failing to close out series sweeps against sub-.500 teams Duke and Georgia.
The Georgia loss Wednesday, which snapped a nine-game Bulldogs’ losing streak, could particularly linger – stringing together 13 hits in a 9-1 road win the night before then getting shut down the next night at home, in a 5-3 defeat.
“We just have to be ready to play,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “We play some very good pitching so we better be in a really good frame of mind offensively.”
Inconsistency has been the consistent factor for a team with 14 first-year freshmen and 22 underclassmen, which has won four games at most in a row and only lost back-to-back games once.
Tigers must regroup for No. 1 UNC
To regain the N.C. State series win mojo, Clemson-leading hitter and sophomore catcher Garrett Boulware, who connected for two home runs and five RBIs against the Wolfpack, says it’s all about the team mindset.
“It’s the same mentality we need to have every day,” Boulware said. “Knowing that we can play with everybody. We’re in the ACC. They’re in the ACC, but they’re no better than we are.
“They’re ranked higher, but we’re a good team and we can show to them when we go up there.”
Saturday’s 6 p.m. start features two of the ACC’s best hurlers, UNC left-hander Kent Emanuel and Clemson right-hander Daniel Gossett.
The Tar Heel junior (4-1, 1.17 ERA) has two complete-game shutouts to his name this season, with 17 strikeouts to six walks and four earned runs in conference play.
Gossett (3-1, 1.33 ERA) is yielding a .192 opponents’ batting average with 34 strikeouts to 11 walks. The Byrnes product has struck out 18 with four earned runs and four walks in 22 2/3 innings of ACC action.
After early struggles, Clemson has found success against left-handed starters in the conference slate. Of the four lefties faced, three took the “L,” giving up five earned runs on average – just one making it six innings (Virginia’s Brandon Waddell, the one no-decision).
In game two, UNC throws sophomore righty Benton Moss (6-0, 1.89 ERA) against Tigers freshman right-hander Clate Schmidt (2-0, 4.05), televised on RSN at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
The Tar Heels have another left-hander going in the Monday finale (6 p.m. on ESPNU), Hobbs Johnson (0-0, 3.48), against a yet-to-be-named Clemson starter. Candidates include senior right-hander Scott Firth (2-4, 3.58), who’s dropped four-straight decisions, and freshman lefty Zack Erwin (2-0, 1.50), who’s given up three earned runs in 18 innings as a long reliever.
Center fielder Skye Bolt, a switch-hitter, keys the North Carolina lineup batting .429 with four homers and 27 RBIs. Third baseman Colin Moran leads UNC in home runs (5), RBIs (32) and runs scored (33).
Boulware is the only Tiger north of .300 hitting (.358), with four homers and 23 RBIs, but he’s looking for more this weekend from the up-and-down Clemson lineup.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Boulware said. “We played Florida State in the same situation last year. We showed them we could play (winning 2-of-3 in Clemson) and hopefully that will happen this weekend.”