Tigers begin tough stretch to the finish with Terps

Baseball - Jon McGibbon high fives Garrett Boulware after Boulware scores in the first inning

Photo by Mark Crammer

Baseball - Jon McGibbon high fives Garrett Boulware after Boulware scores in the first inning

CLEMSON – Exams are over with, and a whole lot of baseball is ahead for Clemson.

The No. 18 Tigers (30-14, 15-9 ACC) host the Maryland Terrapins (27-21, 8-16) at Doug Kingsmore Stadium this weekend for the first three in a 12-games-in-15-days stretch.

Clemson has won 14-of-17, surging into the regional host conversation, and this week’s break from midweek action may have come at the wrong time for Jack Leggett’s crew.

“We got a tough week,” Leggett said. “You lose a little rhythm during exams. You lose touch with your players a little bit because you can’t hold practice together. It’s a tough week for us to try to keep things together.

“I do think we’re playing good.”

His Tigers have won three of their last four ACC series, and are the only Atlantic Division team to avoid a sweep this season in ACC play – taking games from No. 1 UNC and No. 7 Virginia.

After a hitting outage at Miami (two runs in three games), the Tigers scored nine runs per game going 3-1 last week.

“When everybody is clicking in the lineup, we show how dangerous we can be,” Clemson first baseman Jon McGibbon said, who knocked in six RBIs on six hits in the stretch. “We just have to stay where we’re at.”

He says the recent run is underrated with the amount of youth on the team, as underclassmen make up eight of the 12 starting spots in the lineup and weekend rotation.

“I know what a lot of people don’t understand is that we’re still a young team,” said McGibbon. “We’re hitting good, pitching good lately and I think we’re in a place where we need to be.”

Leggett is, however, on the hunt for “an answer” to weekend close-out games, where the Tigers have lost two-straight and 6-of-11 on the year.

Part of that solution? Another rotation shakeup.

Exit true freshman righty Clate Schmidt – enter true freshman lefty Zack Erwin (3-0, 2.77 ERA) as the expected starter for Monday’s ESPNU-televised 7 p.m. contest.

Erwin won his first career start last week against Western Carolina, allowing one run on four hits. He has been a go-to long reliever, allowing 11 earned runs over 34 innings of work.

The Duluth, Ga. product will be the third true freshman to make a weekend start for Clemson this season, joining No. 2 starter Matthew Crownover (5-1, 2.40).

Tigers ace Daniel Gossett (7-2, 2.43) gets the ball for Saturday’s 1 p.m. opener against senior Maryland left-hander Jimmy Reed (5-3, 2.36). Game two, weather-willing, begins 45 minutes after that with a break in the action Sunday.

The new-look Clemson rotation is the only in the ACC all sporting sub-3.00 ERAs.

The Terps will counter with junior righty Jake Stinnett (5-4, 3.35) in game two and freshman lefty Alex Robinson (1-2, 4.01) on Monday.

Maryland is three games out of the running for making the ACC Baseball Championship, but has won six of its last seven games.

Clemson sits in third in the Atlantic Division, but enters the weekend a game off first-place Florida State with six conference games left. After nine games in 12 days ahead, the Tigers head to Tallahassee, Fla. to face the Seminoles.

“Next two weeks, we’re going to be extremely busy,” Leggett said, “so we could make or break ourselves.”

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