CLEMSON – By the rankings, No. 14 Clemson’s trip to No. 2 Virginia this weekend looks like quite the ACC showdown.
The Tigers (20-12, 9-5 ACC), however, are limping their way to Charlottesville.
Dropping two out of three in the Saturday-to-Monday N.C. State series, Clemson fell behind Wake Forest to third in the Atlantic Division, where they’ve finished each of the last two seasons.
Tuesday, they managed just five hits in a 6-2 home loss to Georgia, taking a three-game losing streak on the road.
In the stretch, Clemson has only two RBIs when trailing by four runs or less.
Against the Bulldogs, they kept to the same lineup since senior first baseman Shane Kennedy returned from a knee injury, but shook up the order, moving junior catcher Garrett Boulware from the 3-hole to the 7-hole. That 6-through-9 in the order, including Kennedy and Boulware, went 0-for-15 with four strikeouts.
After a strong start, Kennedy’s average has dropped to .222 with a lineup-worst strikeout percentage (23.1). Against left-handed pitching, he’s hitting .056.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett is still confident they have the right ingredients – they are just working on the right mix.
“We’ve got the right guys in the order right now,” said Leggett. “We just have to figure it out. We just don’t have a lot of guys playing well right now. We’ve got a few guys hitting the ball – and we’ve got some guys really struggling.
“We just can’t build an inning. We didn’t get but one leadoff man on base all night long (against Georgia). Six in the last four ballgames, which makes it very difficult to get momentum going and put pressure on them.”
The Cavaliers (28-5, 12-3) being next on the schedule certainly doesn’t help.
Going into the week, Virginia led the nation in fielding percentage (.987) and was top-five in ERA (2.01) and WHIP (0.97). Conversely, Clemson is tied for last in the ACC in fielding percentage (.957), giving up a third-worst ERA (4.17).
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Virginia’s pitching staff has allowed more than four runs in a game just twice this season (Clemson averages 6.5 runs per game). Sophomore Friday starter Nathan Kirby (6-1, 1.03) is coming off an 18-strikeout no-hitter against Pittsburgh last week. The Panthers hit .078 on the weekend with two runs in three games.
And, of course, it’s hard to ignore the series history between these two.
No team – not even South Carolina – has had Clemson’s number more than Virginia since Brian O’Connor took over in 2004.
The Cavaliers haven’t lost a season series to Clemson since his first year and has gone 20-5 against the Tigers from then on. Leggett started his career 27-10 against Virginia.
Last year’s three-game set was decided by five runs combined – Virginia taking two of the three at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Clemson sophomore left-hander Matthew Crownover (6-2, 2.23) is set to take the mound Friday, while game two and three starters are to be announced. Leggett looks to have back junior righties Daniel Gossett (shoulder) and Jake Long (back) for those two starts after sitting out last weekend.
Clemson’s weekend trio is 11-2 with a 2.72 ERA overall and 7-1 with 64 strikeouts in ACC action.
“It’s tough (this weekend),” Leggett said. “Everybody in our conference is tough. (Kirby) has been pitching well. We got to get something going offensively. “Hopefully we’ll get Gossett back this week and Jake Long. That’s 14 innings of baseball we’ve missed.”