NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the Friday matinee at Hawkins Field (1 p.m., ESPN3), you’ll see West Coast baseball (Oregon) in Central time (Nashville) against an East Coast team (Clemson).
The style of play the Ducks (42-18) employ isn’t all too dissimilar from the Tigers at times.
“They’re going to try to bunt for a hit with nobody on,” Clemson sophomore lefty starter Matthew Crownover said. “Square and safety squeeze. They’re going to see the defense crash in and pull back and swing. They’re a good team and they know what they do well and they’ve had a good year.”
The high-pressure is on Clemson’s corner infielders and pitcher – shaping the Tigers’ order actually with steady senior Jon McGibbon getting the call at first base.
Gossett ready to go in game two
“(McGibbon)’s our most experienced defensive player and got some big hits for us,” Leggett said, “even though we’re facing a left-hander (Oregon’s Tommy Thorpe, 10-4). It’s more about defense tomorrow and handling that zone right there. He’s our guy tomorrow.
“They’ve got 81 sacrifice bunts and 94 hit-by-pitches. It’s a part of their game to lean and get hit and get on base and bunt them over – slash, hit-and-run, all those types of things. That’s something we’ve really practiced the last three days.”
Clemson is last among the four-team field in Nashville in fielding percentage (.963), ranking 205th nationally.
Crownover (8-5) is focusing on what he can control in the matchup.
“They’re a West Coast-style team and they’re going to be playing for one run most of the time,” he said. “I’m sure they swing it pretty well when they get a pretty good pitch to hit. It’s my job in not giving them not too many pitches to hit.”
“You stop a lot of the bunt game if you get the first guy in every inning. That’s what I will concentrate on more than anything.”
Jack Leggett isn’t making his Hawkins Field debut today.
Last season, Tim Corbin – his former assistant of nine years at Clemson – invited him up to talk to his Vanderbilt Commodores in the Super Regional round against Louisville.
“He came here last year when he could have just gone somewhere because they were out,” Corbin said earlier this week. “He chose to come here and stay with us and be a support system and I’m sorry we didn’t win because I would have loved to have enjoyed that moment with him. At the same time, I was glad he was here.”
Leggett was too, and now, even more.
“I’m glad I was here,” said Leggett. “I gotta feel for what the field’s all about and how it plays. How they play. Driving over here, I was at least able in my mind to give a picture for what I’m in for. I think it was worthwhile to be honest with you.”
There are two quirks to the Music City diamond, which sits in close quarters with Vandy’s football and basketball facilities.
One, a 35-foot wall in left field – two feet taller than Fluor Field in Greenville, but with an odd angle that can create some issues for the left fielder, in this case, junior Garrett Boulware.
“I’m excited about it as long as we’re the ones hitting off of it,” Leggett said jokingly. “If it hits off the angle going (to center field) that ball shoots to left center field. It plays a little bit different. It’s exciting any time you have different dimensions to the ballpark. It gives it a little character and a little more excitement and feel.”
There’s also the artificial turf field, which Clemson has encountered already this season in road trips to Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
“It’s certainly something that’s important to us that we’ve played a dozen games on turf this year,” Leggett said. “We have an astroturf field at our (practice) place. This one plays faster than any of the turf we’ve seen all year long. Much more lively than Wake Forest, Duke or Notre Dame’s…It plays more like grass.”
One More Big Game
Crownover is playing just two hours from his Ringgold, Georgia home – a spot that served as the launching point in prolific high school and amateur baseball stints before reaching TigerTown.
Today’s NCAA opener is just another big game to him.
“I’ve pitched in a lot of big games in my life,” Crownover said. “Whether it be pitching for team USA in the gold medal game at 14 or the state final games in high school or pitching at East Cobb high school against some teams that were pretty daggum good – kids that went on to college.
“I’m not too worried about it. I’m not cocky by any means, but I’m confident in what I do and what we do at Clemson. I just want to give our team a chance to win – go seven or eight innings and give our team a chance to win and I’ve done my job.”