With the NCAA Tournament starting next Friday, it would seem all Monte Lee and his No. 14 Clemson Tigers have to do is hit the reset button and they are off and running. However, it is not as easy as it sounds, especially when the Tigers, unlike last year, come limping into the NCAAs.
Since losing their first three-game series of the year at Florida State back on April 15, the Tigers (39-19) lost four of their last six weekend series to close the regular season and then went 0-2 in the ACC Tournament. They have also lost 11 of their last 16 games overall, and 11 of 12 ACC games.
But next week is a new season and there have been plenty of examples of teams turning around a late-season slump and making a run to the College World Series in Omaha. The Tigers only have to look at its own 2016 Clemson Regional as an Oklahoma State team that had lost five of its final 10 games coming into the regional came into Clemson and stunned the Tigers before going to Columbia the next weekend and sweeping South Carolina to advance to the College World Series.
“It’s a new season in the post-season,” Lee said after the Tigers lost to Virginia in the ACC Tournament on Friday. “You get into the field of 64, there’s 295 division one programs and 64 teams get to play in the NCAA Tournament. Clemson is going to be one of those 64 teams. That’s a good thing.
“Once you get in the field of 64, I’ve been a part of some really magical runs as a coach, as a head coach and as an assistant coach where we didn’t host a regional. I’ve been to Omaha a couple times where you didn’t host a regional and I’ve been in a super regional where we didn’t host a regional where we were the four-seed. So I’ve seen some things happen.”
This isn’t the first time Lee has coached a team that limped into the NCAA Tournament. He was an assistant coach on the 2006 South Carolina team that made a run to a Super Regional after a late-season plunge. He was the head coach at the College of Charleston when his Cougars got hot at the right time an upset Florida State as the No. 4 seed in the 2014 Tallahassee, Fla., Regional. They too advanced to the Super Regional Round.
“I’ve been through it before where you struggle down the stretch and had to go on the road and play pretty well. So again, it takes one game,” Lee said. “The post-season is a different animal all together. Everybody knows what’s at stake, so everybody is fighting and clawing as hard as they can to win that first game.
“You’ve got to win that first game to put yourself in that winner’s bracket game. Once you get it to the post-season, heightened awareness peaks with the players, and as a coach, you pretty much sit back and watch them play. The work is done. I mean, we’ve worked as hard as we can to get to that point. I think the guys understand what it takes as a team to be successful. You just hope your guys are ready physically and mentally and they go compete as hard as they can.”
As well as hoping that hitting that reset button works.
“Wherever we go, we’ve shown in the past we can win on the road and it just takes us playing good baseball,” Lee said. “So hopefully we can put our guys in the right mind frame, play good baseball and compete as hard as they can whatever the scenario.”