CLEMSON – Five ACC teams are considered on the cusp of a NCAA Tournament bid – this week’s round-robin conference tournament in Greensboro serving as the elimination round/proving ground for their resumes.
Clemson’s case is possibly the most interesting of all, in danger of missing the field of 64 for only the second time since 1987.
Just what kind of tight-rope are the Tigers (34-22, 15-14 ACC) walking in pool-play action?
Perfect Game’s Kendall Rogers projects them as the last team in as a 3-seed in a Vanderbilt Regional.
On the flipside, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt has Clemson on the outside-looking in, citing a lacking record against better competition. He has lower-seeded ACC Tourney competitors Maryland (34-22, 15-14), UNC (32-23, 15-15) and Georgia Tech (32-24, 14-16) in the field.
“Despite finishing with a winning ACC record (15-14), Clemson is just 2-11 against the top 25, 7-12 against the top 50 and 12-16 against the top 100,” Fitt said. “Their resume lacks substance; they need at least two wins in the conference tournament to bolster their case, and maybe more than that.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett recognizes the challenge, but he believes his team has done enough to be in the conversation and more.
“I think our resume and how we’ve played lately,” said Leggett, “and finished second in the division and in a very strong conference has got us in a pretty good spot. We obviously want to go into the conference tournament and do some damage. There’s a lot of other teams that have the same feeling to go in the conference tournament and do the same.”
The Tigers will throw their potent 1-2 starting punch of sophomore left-hander Matthew Crownover (7-5, 2.25 ERA) and junior right-hander Daniel Gossett (7-1, 1.74) in the first two games against Duke (11 a.m. Wednesday) and No. 6 Miami (7 p.m. Thursday) respectively. Their third starter is to be announced against Georgia Tech (33-24, 14-16) on Friday at 3 p.m. at NewBridge Bank Park.
Despite a season’s inconsistencies, the Tiger lineup leads the ACC in extra-base hits (148) and ranks second in runs per game (5.8).
Shortstop-turned-DH Tyler Krieger is hitting .340 with a team-best 47 runs, while second baseman Steve Wilkerson paces Clemson with 24 extra-base hits.
Saturday’s rally from down 9-2 against Boston College could be a rallying cry for the Tigers going into postseason play – avoiding a devastating series loss and improving to 9-3 in their last 12 games.
“It’s all about finding the right spark at the right time,” senior first baseman Jon McGibbon said, who powered a three-run double in the ninth to force extras in the regular season finale. “This was a big game for us – a really big game. We came in here and fought with our back against the wall and got the job done.”
“Honestly, I don’t know if anybody would want to face us in a regional,” Leggett said. “I feel confident in what our team is capable of doing and still believe in them. I feel good about where we are right now. It was a big win the other night. It was something we had to do and we took care of it.
“We have Crownover and ‘Goose’ Gossett as two of the premier pitchers in our league. That helps us get started and feel confident going into the ACC Tournament.”
Duke (32-23, 16-14) and Miami (40-15, 24-6) will counter with aces of their own.
Blue Devils sophomore righty Michael Matuella (1-2, 2.61) gets the call in the round-robin opener, bringing a fastball that touches 98 miles per hour on the gun. Combine that with a tough slider and curveball – and Baseball America hails him as a potential top-10 pick in next year’s MLB draft.
The Hurricanes will throw junior lefty Chris Diaz (9-0, 2.32), who earned co-ACC pitcher of the year. Over the last two seasons, he’s given up one earned run in 15 2/3 innings against Clemson, going 1-1. Miami hasn’t lost a game he’s started since last year’s ACC Tournament.
The Hurricanes have won 27 of their last 30 games overall to move into national seed territory. They have also taken six in a row over Clemson, holding the Tigers to less than two runs per game (1.2).
The Miami contest and its implications for advancing on in both the ACC and to the NCAA tournament can’t be put ahead of goal No. 1, however.
“We’re just going to concentrate on winning the ballgame on Wednesday,” Leggett said. “That’s the most important focus that we can be concerned with. That’s something that we have under control. We can control that. We can’t control what anybody else does in the country or what anybody else thinks.”
Clemson Baseball Podcast
Pool A ACC Tournament Schedule
Tuesday, May 20
#8 Wake Forest vs. #9 Georgia Tech, 3 p.m. (RSN)
Wednesday, May 21
#4 Duke vs. #5 Clemson, 11 a.m. (RSN)
#1 Miami vs. Game 2 Winner, 3 p.m. (RSN)
Thursday, May 22
#4 Duke vs. Game 2 Winner, 3 p.m. (RSN)
#1 Miami vs. #5 Clemson, 7 p.m. (RSN)
Friday, May 23
#5 Clemson vs. Game 2 Winner, 3 p.m. (RSN)
Saturday, May 24
#1 Miami vs. #4 Duke, 11 a.m. (RSN)
Duke, Miami notes
Miami (ACC ranks) – No. 10 in batting (.261), 8th in OBP (.355), 4th in runs (308), 6th in extra-base hits (129), T-7th in SBs (56).
No. 3 in ERA (3.03), 3rd in BB/9 (3.24), 4th in K/9 (8.25).
Odds and ends: No. 11 RPI. After a 13-12 start through the team's first 25 games, including a 5-4 mark in ACC play, Miami went 27-3 over its final 30 contests - emerging victorious in its seven remaining ACC series and compiling a 19-2 record over those games - to finish the spring with its first 40-win regular season since 2008. They held Clemson to two runs per game back in April. The Tiger lineup was 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position on the weekend. Clemson has lost six games in a row to Miami averaging less than 2 runs per game (1.2). They are 7-2 against the pool play group.
Duke (ACC ranks) – No. 9 in batting (.263), 6th in OBP (.361), 9th in runs (284), 4th in XBH (134), T-7th in SBs (56).
No. 6 in ERA (3.15), 6th in BB/9 (3.28), 3rd in K/9 (8.40).
Odds and ends: No. 80 RPI. 77 SOS. 4-6 in their last 10. 5-13 against top-50 teams. Swept UNC. Won 2-of-3 vs. N.C. State. Stole the finale at No. 4 FSU, 7-5. They are 15-7 since they really got to full strength health-wise in early April. They are 3-6 against the pool play group.