Nashville Regional Preview: How Will The Clemson Tigers Fair?


Even in what may be classified as a down year by some, the Clemson Tigers baseball team is on its way to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th time in 21 seasons under head coach Jack Leggett, and the 39th time overall in program history. The Nashville regional, consisting of top seeded  Vanderbilt, second seeded Oregon, the third seeded Tigers, and fourth seeded Xavier, gets under way Friday afternoon.

It’s no easy task winning a regional. Jack Leggett knows it; his players presumably understand it. Just three years ago, it was Clemson who was hosting a regional tournament, and it was a surprise team in Connecticut that came to TigerTown and advanced through to the Super Regionals. So with that in mind, what must Leggett and the Tigers do to advance past Nashville and on to a super regional?

Big Time Players Make Big Time Plays

For starters, the players have to show up. It’s do or die time for every college baseball team in America right now. Lose two games from here on out and you’re going home. Clemson can’t afford to have the poor showing at the plate they did against Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament. The offensive leaders, Tyler Slaton, Tyler Krieger, Steven Duggar, Garrett Boulware, Steve Wilkerson, Jay Baum, and Chris Okey simply must perform if Clemson has any hope of advancing past Nashville.

Krieger, Wilkerson, and Boulware each hit above .300 this season, with Krieger leading the team at a .330 clip. Not only must those numbers continue, but other guys like Baum and senior Jon McGibbon are going to have to step up as well. Baum ended the year hitting .298 with 28 RBI, a great set of numbers for a guy hitting in the bottom third of the lineup most of the year. It will also be intriguing to see how Okey handles the pressure of catching in a regional tournament. Okey, a Freshman and the team leader in RBI with 41, has likely never played in a game where he will be under as much scrutiny and pressure as he will be come Friday. His presence in the middle of the order has been an enormous lift all year, and Clemson will desperately need him to perform in Nashville.

Having said all of that, the two most important players for the Tigers in the regional tournament are going to be Daniel Gossett and Matthew Crownover. Gossett, a junior right hander, has been superb all year for Clemson, coming into regional play with a 7-1 record and a 1.78 ERA. Meanwhile, Crownover, the sophomore lefty, has been just as impressive, entering the NCAA Tournament with an 8-5 record and a 2.26 ERA. Clemson will only go as far as these two pitchers take them. The middle innings have not been kind to Clemson or its bullpen this season, so getting long outings that lead to minimal bullpen use could be a key factor in Clemson trying to advance.

Who Will Be The Third Starter?

This question may have finally been answered on Friday. The Tigers have been looking for a third starter to go behind Gossett and Crownover all year, and Clate Schmidt delivered a tremendous performance against the Yellow Jackets in the ACC Tournament, going 8.1 innings allowing just 2 runs. Schmidt had been one of the guys in the mix all year for that third starting job, along with Zack Erwin and Jake Long. While Erwin and Long haven’t done anything to distance themselves for the pack, it would appear than Schmidt finally has. If Clemson is going to be able to win this regional tournament and beyond, they will need Schmidt to pitch like he did Friday afternoon for the remainder of the season.

Closing Out Games

Closer Matt Campbell has been tremendous all season long, boasting a 4-0 record with a 0.87 ERA and eight saves. So clearly he is not the concern when it comes to closing out ball games in the postseason. Instead, the concern lies with getting to him. The middle innings have been disastrous for Clemson for much of the season. If a starting pitcher is only able to go 5 or 6 innings, which will likely be the case at some point this postseason, the bullpen is going to need to bridge the gap to Campbell. Drew Moyer has probably been the most reliable reliever in this role, so it would appear that there will be an added pressure on his shoulders should this scenario arise.

What It All Means

Clemson simply hasn’t been a great baseball team in 2014. They’ve been good at times, and they’ve been abysmal at others. They have seemingly played up and down to their competition at times, which could actually bode well for the postseason, where virtually every opponent is a conference champion and a damn good ball club. The fact remains that Clemson is only as good as its starting pitching. While the Tigers have had one of the better offenses in the ACC this season, it will do them no good if the pitching struggles. Look for Gossett and Crownover to be their regular old selves in games one and two of the regional. Game three could be the one that tells us everything we need to know about Clemson’s postseason chances.