CLEMSON – If recent history repeats itself, Tiger baseball has a good chance of leaving Tallahassee, Fla., with an Atlantic Division title this weekend.
For a fourth-straight season, No. 17 Clemson and No. 9 Florida State meet to close the ACC regular season, and for the second time in four years – the division and a top-two seed in the ACC Tournament is on the line.
In the season finale format, Jack Leggett’s Tigers (38-15, 17-10 ACC) have won three-straight series against FSU (42-10, 18-9), and that success extended into the postseason last year when first baseman Jon McGibbon lifted a three-run walkoff homer in the ACC Tourney.
“It seems like every year it’s coming down to that last weekend between us and Florida State,” Clemson senior reliever Scott Firth said. “It’s exciting. It’s a good atmosphere down there against a good team and I think we’re definitely ready for the challenge.
“We’re feeling good and playing good and now we just have to take it on the road.”
The Tigers have won eight games in a row and 22-of-26 stretching back to April 1, where they took an extra-innings thriller at then No. 1 UNC.
The run has set up a complicated final weekend in a three-way fight for the Atlantic Division.
A sweep of the Seminoles, a la the 2010 series, would clinch it for Clemson, but they can also take the title with a pair of wins and a single loss by fifth-ranked N.C. State (39-13, 16-10) at Duke (26-26, 9-18). All Florida State needs is to win the series.
Adding to the stakes, Baseball America’s latest projections have FSU as its final national seed, while Clemson is only just on the outside-looking in on the chance to host in the NCAAs all the way to Omaha’s College World Series.
The Tigers have jelled remarkably with 18 newcomers making up the 35-man roster and underclassmen as 5-of-9 in the lineup and all the starting pitching rotation.
Leggett maintained from the get-go his team could do some damage in 2013.
“I always thought we would win and be in a good spot,” said Leggett. “Early in the year, we just needed to get better and mature – grow up a little bit and get experience.
“Everybody is starting to understand what their role is. We’re doing the things asked of us all the time in terms of execution and hitting and getting the bunts down – getting runners over and those kinds of things. We’re getting better at how we need to play.”
Staying hot at Florida State, with all that’s on the line, comes down to keeping the same mentality.
“We’re really trying not to worry about anything outside and just play our game,” Firth said, who’s earned four wins and four saves since moving into a closer role midseason. “Keep things simple and we know that if we can do that and execute the way we’re capable of then regionals and anything like that will work itself out.”
FSU has won 11-of-12 since getting swept at Virginia mid-April, but a quirk of the new TV-arranged schedule could have them at a disadvantage this weekend.
Seminoles coach Mike Martin has used senior righty ace Scott Sitz (9-1, 1.66 ERA) as a third starter, but due to a Saturday-through Monday series at N.C. State over the weekend – he isn’t listed to start on four day’s rest in the 3 p.m. Saturday finale.
Instead, Martin will throw junior right-hander Peter Miller (6-1, 3.04) for Thursday’s 6 p.m. matchup, which is his first weekend start since taking the loss March 30 at Virginia Tech (three earned runs in 3 1/3 innings).
Usual FSU No. 1 starter, righty Luke Weaver (5-2, 2.17), gets the ball in Friday’s 8 p.m. first pitch. Saturday, a pair of lefty underclassmen match-up: FSU’s Brandon Leibrandt (8-4, 3.41) against Clemson’s Zack Erwin (5-0, 2.88).
Tigers right-hander Daniel Gossett (8-3, 2.36) is set to go in game one and lefty Matthew Crownover (7-1, 1.90) in game two.
Overall, the Seminoles (2.66) and Tigers (2.94) feature the second and third-best team ERAs in the ACC. Clemson hasn’t had as low a collective ERA in over 20 years (1992, 2.86).
The Tigers are 11-6 overall and 7-5 in conference play on the road this season, while Florida State is 11-1 against ACC opponents and 30-2 overall at home.
The Friday and Saturday games will be televised by ESPNU.