CLEMSON – Jack Leggett will readily admit he gets anxious this time of year, whether his team is in regional contention or just fighting for an at-large bid.
That in mind, the last week for Tiger baseball has been pretty tough – their fate in the hands of the NCAA baseball tournament committee with a borderline record (36-23) and RPI (49).
Tigers 'clicking' into postseason
Late Sunday, Baseball America and Perfect Game pegged Clemson as the last team out of the field. After Monday’s announcement, those two publications had 63-of-64 teams and all eight national seeds correct – all, but the Tigers.
“It was very exciting,” coach Jack Leggett said. “They erupted and were just ready to play again. They are a very competitive group, they’ve been playing very well lately and deserve to be in it. It was a little bit of a sleepless night because you never know how things will fall in the country.”
“All week we’ve been holding our breath,” Clemson ace right-hander Daniel Gossett said. “Was going to be a close one. To see our name pop up – everybody is jumping up and screaming – we’re ready. I didn’t like sitting around waiting. We just came off a tough tournament and to hear our name pop up, we felt relief.”
Clemson was among the final four in along with Texas A&M (39 RPI), North Carolina (41), and UC-Irvine (44) over West Virginia (38), Mercer (43), UCF (48) and Southern California (67).
They head to Nashville, Tennessee, in a regional hosted by No. 20 Vanderbilt (41-18), along with Oregon (42-18) and Xavier (28-27). In the schools’ first meeting, Clemson and Oregon start things off Friday at 1 p.m. at Hawkins Field. Vandy and the Big East champ Musketeers then play in the 8 p.m. nightcap. The games will be available on the web on ESPN3.
The Ducks are led offensively by catcher Shaun Chase’s 12 homers and first baseman Mitchell Tolman’s 46 RBIs. They have two 10-win pitchers in lefty Tommy Thorpe (10-4, 2.20 ERA) and righty Jeff Gold (10-2, 3.14).
The potential matchup with the host Commodores could pit teacher versus former student – Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin a part of the Leggett coaching tree. It didn’t take long after the announcements to get back in touch.
“Already have (talked to him). We just kind of knew this would happen at some point,” Leggett said. “The more coaches you have – between him and Sully (Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan)…I’ve got a lot of guys in it.
“I’m excited to see him. He’s a gamer – a competitor as I am. It’s more of a business trip than a personal trip. At the same time, I always enjoy seeing him and it’s going to be a great competition.”
Now or never: Tigers get second chance
The Tigers are 2-1 all-time against Vandy without a meeting since 1986.
A season’s ups and downs had Clemson in must-win scenarios down the stretch – and mostly, they did, going 11-4 in their final 15 games (one measure the NCAA committee looks to).
Clemson finished with a top-50 strength of schedule (44), seven top-50 and 15 top-100 wins – just five losses to teams with triple-digit RPI ranks.
Wednesday’s walkoff win over Miami may have clinched the berth, as no ACC team had missed the field with at least a .500 conference record and two ACC tourney wins since 1995 (N.C. State).
“We put together two good games in the ACC Tournament to come out and beat Duke and walk-off against Miami was huge,” Gossett said. “We’re going to take that momentum into the regional, then the super regionals and then take it to Omaha.
"It’s there. We can win. We’re one of the best teams in the country.”