As the bus rolled up in front of Doug Kingsmore Stadium late last Friday, Clemson pitcher Charlie Barnes and first baseman Andrew Cox both stepped off the bus and just looked at DKS as if it was the last time they were going to see it.
Though the Tigers were definitely going to make the NCAA Tournament and had a couple of practices to go in DKS, they were hoping a good showing in the ACC Championship in Louisville, Ky., last week would cement their opportunity of being a host school. However, after losing to No. 9 seed Duke in the first game and then being embarrassed by No. 5 seed Virginia last Friday, they felt they probably blew their opportunity.
“After we got off the bus for the ACC Tournament we were talking about there was a chance we might not host,” Barnes said. “It made us sick to our stomach to think there was a chance that we may never get to play at Doug Kingsmore Stadium again.”
Fortunately for Barnes and Cox, as well as their Clemson teammates, the Tigers did win the bid to host an NCAA Regional and will play UNC Greensboro on Friday in Game 2 of the Clemson Regional at 7 p.m. Vanderbilt, the No. 2 seed, will play No. 3 St. John’s in the Game 1 at noon.
“We are extremely grateful and I don’t think it has hit me fully, yet,” Barnes said.
More than likely, whatever game he pitches in, Barnes will touch the rubber for the last time at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, a place he used to run around in as a little boy playing wall-ball with his brother and friends while watching his childhood idols.
“It is definitely bitter sweet,” Barnes said. “I have enjoyed my time here. It has been an incredible three years. I would not have done anything different. I’m glad I came here. It has been a lifelong dream of mine and I lived it out. It has been a ton of fun the whole three years.”
Barnes says he is not going to try to think about it being his last game too much, but he wants to enjoy the moment and knowing how hard he has worked to get to this point in his career. He has come from being a midweek starter, who just came out of the bullpen for an inning or two when he was a freshman, to now finishing up his second straight year as the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher.
This year, because he has been so solid on the mound, Barnes is easily the Tigers’ ace on their pitching staff. He leads the Tigers with a 2.73 ERA as well as with 109 strikeouts, the most by a Clemson pitcher since Chris Benson in 1996, to go with 21 walks.
“He has progressed because we have given him the ball,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “At the end of the day, only one man can step on the mound in that starting role for your team on that day and we have given Charlie the ball every single weekend in the two years I have been here.
“Whether it is on Friday or Saturday, he has gotten the ball. Really, just giving him the baseball and letting him develop week in and week out, good batter or indifferent, he has turned into the pitcher that he has been. I don’t think it is really anything I have done or we have done besides we believe in Charlie. We have always felt like Charlie had the stuff that could lead a rotation.”
Though Barnes is a junior, this time next month he will begin his life in the minor leagues as he begins his pro career. Before the season began, Barnes was considered the 82nd best college draft prospect by Baseball America and he should be a surefire top 10-round pick in the MBL Draft which will be begin on June 12.
“Honestly, right now, I’m not focused on that,” Barnes said. “I’m trying to win a regional and then win a super regional. I will focus on that whenever that time comes. Right now, I’m playing for the Clemson Tigers and that is my only focus and that is what I’m looking to do.
“When the season ends, I will worry about the draft and all of that, but right now I’m focused on getting this team as far as I can.”
And he is going to enjoy every last ounce of it while doing it.
“I know I have one more game for sure to pitch here,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy it and do the best I can to get our team a win.”