When it was 33-7 and cruising to what looked like a sure trip to Omaha for the College World Series, the Clemson baseball team never imagined six weeks later they would be sitting in the position they are sitting in today.
But yet here they are.
It’s Sunday morning in regional week and like last year the Tigers find themselves staring elimination right in the face.
“Tonight sucked, but you can’t dwell on it,” Clemson first baseman Rudy Cox said after the top seeded Tigers lost to No. 2 seed Vanderbilt, 9-4 in the Clemson Regional on Saturday night. “(Today) we are fighting for our lives. We are not promised anything except Game 1.”
This is the second year in a row Clemson finds itself in this position at home, at this point in the NCAA Baseball Championships. Last year, the Tigers managed to stave off elimination just long enough to play a second game on that Sunday before losing the 2016 Clemson Regional to Oklahoma State.
The Tigers (40-20) have to draw off that experience heading into today’s one o’clock game against No. 4 seed UNC Greensboro. The SoCon Champions beat St. John’s in the first game on Saturday to set up the rematch with Clemson, who knocked off the Spartans, 5-4, on Friday night.
“Guys have to understand that when they come to the ballpark (today) that we are fighting for our lives,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “We are trying to extend our season and that our season is on the line in Game 1.
“Game 1 is all that matters because we have to try and do everything we can to play two ballgames (today). That is the bottom line. Our season is on the line (today) at one o’clock. We need to put together a good game. We need to compete for nine innings and find a way to win Game 1 and force a Game 2.”
If the Tigers can get to Game 2, then they will face the Commodores again tonight at 7 p.m. Clemson will have to win that game to force a winner take all final game on Monday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“We can’t think about a second game,” Cox said. “Our energy, focus and mindset have to be about playing a complete nine innings in the first game because that is that we are promised. Sleep, meals, we are not going to use any of that as an excuse. We have to be ready to play (today) at 1 p.m.
“If we take care of business in the first one then we will try to take care of business in the second one. All of our energy and our focus is aimed at playing a complete game in the game we are promised.”
So the Tigers head to the ballpark in a few hours with the knowledge they could have just nine innings left in the season. Six weeks ago, no one could imagine they would be sitting here in this position.
“We are promised nine innings for the rest of the season and so I think we have to come out and try to put together as good of a nine innings as you can,” Cox said. “You can’t look forward and you can’t look behind you. You have to stay in the moment.”