The bitter taste left in the mouths of Clemson Baseball players and coaching staff from last season's regional loss hasn't dissipated 9 months later as the 2024 season approaches.
But that loss hasn't dampened the optimism from second-year head coach Erik Bakich or his belief that the Tigers will return to Omaha, where Clemson was once a regular, at some point.
In a discussion with Jason Priester of AllClemson.com Bakich indicated that this years Tiger team came in hungry and is not a group that the staff had to teach attitude or effort to.
While the Tigers have lost some star power from the 2023 team, Bakich sees this edition as having a lot of depth, perhaps being even deeper than his Michigan team that made a run to Omaha.
That Michigan team had several high draft picks in the rotation and while the Tigers rotation may not be at that level, Bakich is confident that superstars or not, the current group has a combination of experience and talent that will serve it well.
To that end, Bakich said that the Tigers may not be as reliant on the starters to go 6 or 7 innings as in the past.
The rotation hasn't been nailed down as of yet, but familiar names such as Austin Gordon, Tristan Smith, Billy Barlow and Joe Allen were mentioned as possibilities, as was Wofford transfer Matthew Marchall, a second-team all-SoCon performer in 2023.
Perhaps the deepest area on the team is the relief pitching, specifically returnees Nick Clayton, Rob Hughes and Reed Garris, along with another Wofford transfer in Lucas Mahlstedt.
Bakich believes he has the arms and depth to shorten the game when it's in the Tigers favor, which is a luxury most college baseball teams don't have.
It's not all veterans and transfers though. Bakich sees the talent of a couple of young freshmen in Jarren Purify and Drew Parks as names that Clemson fans will grow to know and love, while a couple of freshman pitchers, Drew Titsworth and Aidan Knaak will also have an opportunity to contribute.
Knaak is a name I've heard several times in following the team through the fall and winter workouts and scrimmages.
The 6'0, 205-pound Knaak from Fort Meyers, Florida, was rated the No. 74 freshman in the nation in the preseason per Perfect Game.
Clemson Baseball is a team that should expect to be in Omaha
As for the expectations for this and every Clemson Baseball team Bakich was perfectly clear.
"Clemson should be a team that expects to go to Omaha."- Erik Bakich
Bakich admits that his team didn't execute in last year's regional, despite being one of the hottest teams in the nation going into that weekend.
While acknowledging breaks and luck play a part in getting to the College World Series, he's also confident that Omaha is in the Tigers' future once again.
"It's just going to happen. We're just going to get over the hump. (The) program is going to get back to Omaha. We've just got to do it."- Erik Bakich
Clemson is scheduled to open the season on Friday, February 16 at 4 p.m. when they kick off a three-game series with Xavier.