When Clemson lost to Nevada, 7-5, in Game 2 of their three-game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium back on May 7, the Tigers lost more than one game. They also lost, at the time, their best player on the team.
With relief pitchers Brooks Crawford and Ryan Miller already out due to illness and injury, which dramatically affected Clemson’s bullpen, losing catcher Chris Williams was a blow the team could not get past.
“It killed us. It hurt pretty badly,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said.
After Williams injured his right shoulder, while diving back to the bag at first on a pick-off play, the Tigers never really recovered. They went 1-7 in ACC games after that and finished the season just 7-9 in the 16 games without him behind the plate.
Williams tried to tough it out and help as a designated hitter or pinch hitter, but he was just 2-for-28 and had just seven at-bats (0-for-7) in the postseason.
“When we lost Chris Williams it definitely affected us from a protection standpoint with other guys in the lineup,” Lee said.
The medical staff at Clemson ultimately discovered Williams tore ligaments in his shoulder, ligaments that hold his arm in place. Basically, his right arm was sliding in and out if his socket. He is scheduled to have surgery and will miss the next three months of workouts as well as portions of fall practice while he rehabs.
Before the injury, Williams was hitting over .300 and he led the Tigers in home runs and RBIs. Like Lee said, he was protecting guys in the lineup such Chase Pinder and Seth Beer, who had both started to come on especially with Williams and Reed Rohlman consistently driving the baseball and getting on base.
“The one thing that gets lost in Chris Williams, that a lot of people did not realize, is Chris was one of the most offensive catchers in the whole country,” said Lee, who says Williams should be 100-percent in about six months. “At the time, Chris Williams was considered one of the top three offensive catchers in the whole nation.
“This was a guy that was really, really good for us. He was our middle-of-the-order hitter that has power and also drives in runs and also catches every day. You just don’t see guys that can do that.”
Williams, who batted .261 overall with 14 doubles, 14 homers and 51 RBIs, was also a team leader, a guy who was vocal in the clubhouse and sat on Lee’s Leadership Council as well.
“That is a guy that plays with a lot of energy. He was on our leadership council so he was a guy his teammates really expected as well,” Lee said. “Losing those guys out of the pen, along with losing Chris, it definitely affected us, but we never talked about it because, again, we are not going to make excuses. We just had to move forward.”
The Tigers tried their best to move forward, but ultimately the season came to an end in the Clemson Regional Championship Game where Vanderbilt eliminated them from the NCAA Tournament. A season that began with so much promise ended with a lot of “what ifs,” most of which surround Chris Williams’ injury.