Boulware, Okey providing punch at, behind the plate

Baseball - Garrett Boulware, right, celebrates with Chris Okey after scoring a run against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Baseball - Garrett Boulware, right, celebrates with Chris Okey after scoring a run against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

CLEMSON - Jack Leggett said all along freshman Chris Okey was going to start.

His issue was playing the position of arguably No. 13 Clemson's top hitter already, junior Garrett Boulware.

Making use of the designated hitter role, Leggett started his two scholarship catchers all three games last weekend and to say it was a success - would be an understatement.

The duo knocked in nine of Clemson's 17 RBIs - Okey pacing the Tigers (2-1) with his first three collegiate hits driving in a team-best 5.

"It speaks a lot for him because he's a freshman," Boulware said. "The kid contributed a lot in our lineup this week, whether it's behind the plate or at the plate. He did really good and I'm really happy to see him to step up as a freshman in the middle of our lineup.

"I hope to continue to those runs and continue to produce and do my job as a 3-hole hitter. I'm really happy the (rotation) we have going right now."

It indeed was a rotation, as Okey started behind the plate on Saturday. Last season, Boulware started 59-of-61 games at catcher, so he's welcome to a little help back there.

"It's nice," Boulware said. "It's refreshing. My arm was not feeling great Friday and Saturday – I love catching, but I was excited to have that day off. My arm felt 10 times better (Sunday). It made all the difference."

If you ask Okey, he's living the dream right now.

His grandfather was a past IPTAY president, while his mom, Kim, was a cheerleader at Clemson. He grew up in central Florida, but those Tiger ties were always there.

"It was a huge part (of coming to Clemson)," said Okey. "I liked them from a little kid. I came up here a couple years ago and fell in love with the place. It's an awesome place to be and I'm glad I'm here."

He was projected as high as a top-20 prospect in last year's MLB draft, but after no selection in day one’s first two rounds, it became apparent he was Clemson-bound.

“I told (MLB teams) straight-up that I'm very interested in Clemson,” said Okey. “I really want to go there. If we can't come across terms, I have no problem coming here.”

Okey was pleased with his college debut, but more pleased with what he saw out of his new teammates.

"I feel fantastic," Okey said. "I learned this team is a bunch of fighters. I knew that from the first time I stepped in the locker room. It was unbelievable and the group of leaders we have, it's fantastic. I cannot wait to see what the future holds."

Not everybody had as smooth a 2014 start – and that group will get their chance this weekend against Maine to get on track before the schedule really heats up.

Senior second baseman Steve Wilkerson returns from his suspension for a violation of team rules. He has hit .291 or better with 98 total bases a piece the last two seasons.

Senior first baseman Jon McGibbon was hit-less in seven at-bats last weekend, while leadoff hitter and center fielder Tyler Slaton batted .091.

"Overall, I didn't get all my hits this weekend," Boulware said, "but I'm hitting the ball every time. I just can't get them to fall (enough) like the rest of the kids on this team. We've had 30 square balls every time and just can't get it to go."

The visiting Black Bears (1-2) took a game at Miami last weekend behind a strong effort from sophomore left-hander Scott Heath.

He allowed a single run over seven innings, with eight strikeouts to one walk. Righty Tommy Lawrence, the 2013 America East pitcher of the year, gave up five earned runs in five frames.

Maine, Clemson coach Jack Leggett's alma mater, last came to town in 2012, where they won the opener 6-5 and went on to lose the series.

SERIES SETUP

• Who - Maine (1-2) at Clemson (2-1)

• Rankings - MAI - NR; CU - #13 BA, #20 CB, #16 USA

• Where - Clemson, SC (Doug Kingsmore Stadium)

• When - Friday (4 PM), Saturday (2 PM), Sunday (12 PM)

• Watch - ESPN3 (Friday, Saturday), TigerCast (Sunday)

• Listen - TigerCast, WCCP (104.9 FM)

• Tickets - ClemsonTigers.com, 1-800-CLEMSON

• Promotion (Sunday) #1 - Get a Family Four Pack of tickets for $20 at ClemsonTigers.com or at the gate.

• Promotion (Sunday) #2 - Social Media Sunday. Show voucher at @ClemsonBaseball on Twitter/Instagram and receive $2 fried mac & cheese bites.

SERIES HISTORY

• Overall Record - Clemson leads 16-1 (1991-12)

• Record at Clemson - Clemson leads 15-1 (1996-12)

THE STARTING PITCHERS

• Friday - RHP Tommy Lawrence vs. RHP Daniel Gossett

• Saturday - RHP Jake Marks vs. LHP Matthew Crownover

• Sunday - LHP Scott Heath vs. RHP Jake Long

MAINE OVERVIEW

• Maine is led by ninth-year Head Coach Steve Trimper.

• The Black Bears won one of three games at Miami (FL) last weekend.

• Troy Black leads the team with a .545 batting average (6-for-11), two RBIs, and two stolen bases.

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