CLEMSON – Most everything is falling into place for No. 19 Clemson baseball down the stretch.
Since April’s start, the Tigers (34-15) have won 18-of-22, rising to No. 12 in the latest RPI rankings.
To stay hot however, Clemson coach Jack Leggett is making sure his team doesn’t overdo it going into the final home regular season series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium this weekend.
They are in a run of seven games in seven days, and by the regular season’s conclusion next week – 11 games in 13 days, after doubleheader sweeps of both Maryland and Furman this week.
“We’re a little tired,” said Leggett. “We got to go home and get some rest, practice light and come back ready to play Friday-Saturday-Sunday against a good Georgia Southern team.”
Both Baseball America and SEBaseball.com included the Tigers in their latest NCAA regional host projections this week.
In the No. 1 RPI conference (ACC), Clemson’s No. 12 ranking is ahead of multiple teams on the regional bubble, including Arizona State (15), South Alabama (16), UCLA (19), Ole Miss (20), Arkansas (37) and Oklahoma (44).
The Tigers have hosted 13 regionals since 1980, owning a 21-5 record over the last decade at Doug Kingsmore in NCAA Tournament games, with three College World Series appearances.
Leggett says he doesn’t really have to address hosting, and the finish needed for it, to his players at this point.
“Never really mention it except that they know that every game is important,” Leggett said. “Every game can make or break you before it’s all over and a lot of people are competing for the same thing. We just want to keep on winning games and keep on playing well.
“Our schedule’s good, our RPI’s good so hopefully we have an opportunity down the road.”
Georgia Southern (25-23) hits town after losing 2-of-3 at home to Furman last week. They are next-to-last in the Southern Conference in team batting (.266) with a 5.33 team ERA.
Game is one set for 7 p.m. Friday, game two is at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday with a 1 p.m. Sunday finale. It can’t go unnoticed, in a season that’s rendered five doubleheaders already, that a better than 50 percent chance of rain is currently in the forecast for Saturday.
Clemson righty ace Daniel Gossett (7-3, 2.48 ERA) is sixth in the ACC in strikeouts (68), with 32 more than the nearest Tiger. Debuting a new-look rotation, freshman lefties Matthew Crownover (6-1, 2.14) and Zack Erwin (4-0, 2.60) each earned wins in Monday’s Maryland doubleheader.
Four of the top-10 in the latest NCAA team ERA stats can’t say they feature an all-sub-3.00 ERA weekend trio like Clemson’s.
A pair of newcomers has keyed a surge in the lineup, which has scored 8.4 runs per game in the last nine contests.
Third baseman Shane Kennedy, a juco signee, has a team-leading .315 average with nine hits in the last seven games, scoring 10 times. He has a team-best on-base percentage (.409), with an also team-leading 30 walks, and is second in stolen bases (16).
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His boost in the middle of the lineup has been noticeable, but production at the top of the order took a dip until Wednesday, via designated hitter Maleeke Gibson’s bat.
The Sumter freshman not only got on base to score three runs, but he also knocked in four RBIs.
Gibson is batting just .231, but has eight of his 10 RBIs in his last seven games after not playing in 18 of the previous 25 games.
“Maleeke gives us a little bit of a boost up there,” Leggett said. “So we have to give him more at-bats. He’s a tough out and has some speed – knows the strike zone. I like him up there.”
Clemson is 22-9 overall and 12-4 against non-conference opponents at home this season.
They will keep a steady eye on Raliegh, N.C. this weekend where No. 5 N.C. State (38-11, 15-8 ACC) hosts division-leading No. 9 Florida State (40-9, 16-8). The Tigers, 17-10 in ACC play, sit in third and face the Seminoles on the road to close conference play next week.