Omaha, NE – Twelve days ago freshman righty Dominic Leone was preparing for what would be the biggest start of his young career. Well, after today, that start pales in comparison. Leone will be given the ball at 9:00 eastern time tonight to throw in a game that means far more, at least now it does.
Leone got the nod in game three of the Tigers Super Regional, going head to head with Alabama ace Nathan “Peanut” Kilcrease, and it was Dominic who shined in that match-up. The true freshman went five and two-thirds innings, giving up just one run, which was unearned, and just three hits. Compare that to Bama’s Kilcrease, who went five innings and gave up six runs, all earned, on ten hits, and you may start to see why Head Coach Jack Leggett and Pitching Coach Dan Peppicelli have decided to trust Leone with the ball today.
Remember back during the season, if you will, and in the middle of that slump for the Tigers, one thing continued to shine. Leone got the ball in a few mid-week starts and performed very, very well, but in several of those games the Tigers would lose due to lack of hitting, poor bullpen pitching, or on several occasions a combination of both.
That in itself can make Dominic’s stat line look average, but rest assured his last few starts have been anything but average. TheClemsonInsider.com felt and wrote early on, before the first pitch, that the star out of Norwich Free Academy would make a name for himself this season, and could end up as a weekend starter even. Well, if he hasn’t made a name among any of you Clemson fans yet, tonight is just the night to get it done.
Coming into tonight, Leone has started nine games, and appeared in 13 others. In those 21 total appearances, he holds a 3-1 record and a 4.53 ERA while totaling 40 strikeouts, all very respectable numbers, especially for a freshman pitcher in the ACC.
That brings us to tonight’s game. Dominic will get the start in not only a huge game, a game that could land the Tigers in the national championship series, but a game against the Tiger’s bitter rival South Carolina. I know the players and the coaches will say that the opponent doesn’t matter, but that couldn’t be further from the truth in my opinion. I don’t blame them for saying that, I just don’t think they will come into this match-up without a little extra fire in their belly.
I don’t want to harp on old memories, especially bad ones, but just real quick let’s think back to 2002. In that year, the Tigers had made the College World Series, and had started off hot. After beating both Nebraska and Georgia Tech, again putting them one win away from the championship series, it was the South Carolina Gamecocks that sent them packing. The Gamecocks eliminated the Tigers by handily beating them in back to back games, 12-4 and 10-2.
Now of course, this isn’t the same South Carolina team as back then, it’s been eight years, but more importantly this is NOT the same Tiger team either. This years team features several young and talented players, but perhaps none with a bigger shot at instant Tiger stardom than Dominic Leone faces tonight. And if he performs anything like his last career highlight start, he and the Tigers will be just fine.
Note: The Tigers and the Gamecocks face off tonight in Omaha, Nebraska’s Rosenblatt Stadium at 9:00 Eastern. The game will be televised by ESPN2 and will also be carried on the Clemson Sports Network on 104.9 WCCP for upstate South Carolina and on WCCPFM.com.