As Monte Lee spoke to the media following top-seeded Clemson’s 6-0 victory over Vanderbilt Sunday night to force a deciding game in the Clemson Regional today, it was obvious the Tigers’ head coach was tired.
Usually very emotional, jovial and boisterous with the media, regardless of the outcome, Lee was spent. Then first baseman Andrew Cox came up, put his arm around Lee and took him from the media.
That put a smile on Lee’s face and the Clemson coach turned around and said, as he was walking away, “We have to do a little celebrating!”
Though it was 1:15 in the morning, the Tigers and Lee deserved to celebrate after spending more than 15 hours at the ballpark for meetings, batting practice, bullpen, several weather delays and two baseball games.
In the end, with all of his emotions drained out of him, Lee found enough energy to go celebrate with his team after they won two emotional games to keep their season alive.
“In Game 1 I was pretty anxious, nervous, the heart was pumping pretty good, getting frustrated at every pitch we swung at out of the zone and every play we did not make,” Lee said. “I was pretty amped up in the first one. But in the second one, I said, ‘You know what. For us to do what we did to put ourselves in this position, I was just grateful for the opportunity.’”
Whether it was the long day or the fact he just had faith in his team, Lee was much calmer in the win over Vanderbilt then he was in the victory over UNC Greensboro.
“I don’t know if I have been as calm in this game as I have been in a while, just because of how we fought and how we competed to get through Game 1,” Lee said.
The Tigers (42-20) rallied to beat UNCG after falling behind 3-0 in the first three innings. But led by Kyle Wilkie’s 3-for-3 game at the plate and Owen Griffith’s flawless performance out of the bullpen, they rallied to score six runs over the final six innings for a 6-3 victory.
It was Logan Davidson’s two-run jack in the top of the seventh inning that pushed Clemson out in front for good, and provided the spark that carried over into the Vanderbilt game.
“We have been talking about it for weeks, and again, it just takes a spark. It just takes a spark,” Lee said. “You just can’t ever stop believing. I think that is the biggest thing. You can’t ever stop believing, but you have to have evidence.
“Some guys needed to step up for us and prove to us, again, that we can compete at the highest level. We definitely did that today. There is no doubt about it.”
In the win over the Commodores in the second game, the Tigers got SportsCenter type plays from Reed Rohlman and Weston Jackson in the outfield and Jordan Greene at second base, while on the mound Tyler Jackson reached down deep and pulled off one of the best post-season pitching performances in Clemson history. The righty pitched a two-hit, complete-game shutout.
At the plate, Weston Jackson went 3-for-5 with a home run, two runs scored and three RBIs, while Wilkie continued to hit the ball going 2-for-3 with an RBI. Even Grayson Byrd got in the act with two hits of his own and one run driven in.
“I have been coaching for a long time, and that I think is the best baseball game that I think I have ever seen with my own two eyes,” Lee said. “I don’t know if I have ever seen a team play that well. When you look at the pitching performance by Tyler Jackson, first and foremost, and how we played defensively, I don’t know if I have ever seen a better game defensively. We played extremely well, made a lot of, not only good plays, but great plays and we had some big-time hits. We had two-strike hits. We had two-out hits.
“Our guys really, really competed. I don’t know if we could have played a better baseball game. I’m really proud of our guys.”
And in the end Lee was really tired. But that did not stop him from celebrating.