By Trey McCurry.
Coming into the season, there was some talk about who may start at second base for the 2012 Clemson Tigers. Ten games into the season, it seems that talk has been put to rest.
Sophomore Steve Wilkerson, despite missing the first series, has solidified his spot in the lineup with a strong start out of the gate this season. Through seven games, the switch hitter is hitting .382 with three doubles, six RBI, nine runs, and two stolen bases while mainly occupying the second spot in the lineup.
Last season, the Roswell, GA came to Clemson with a lot of hype out of Pope High School. He was a 15th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2010 MLB Draft, but instead chose to attend Clemson. His arrival brought high expectations as he was named the #8 newcomer in the ACC by Baseball America.
However, the 2011 season was one that the now-sophomore would like to forget, as he seemed to struggle throughout the season while facing the tougher competition at the college level. In 42 games, including 12 starts at second base, Wilkerson hit only .173 with 13 runs, five RBI, and one steal.
After spending the summer playing for LaCrosse in the Northwoods League, Wilkerson returned to Clemson a different player. He spent the fall in the weight room and worked with assistant coach Bradley LeCroy to improve his approach at the plate. And as anyone can see, it has worked and he has more than doubled his batting average and already eclipsed his double, RBI, and stolen base totals from his freshman season.
The Tigers first switch hitter in over a decade has used the past two Sunday games to already make his mark on the 2012 Tiger baseball squad.
Two weeks ago, against Maine on February 26, Wilkerson became the only active Tiger with a four-hit game and knocked in the tying-run in Clemson’s 9-6 come-from-behind win over the Black Bears. For the day, the second baseman was 4-for-5 with a double, two RBI, and three runs.
After the game, Wilkerson took a humble approach to his accomplishment. “I had no idea (on being the only active Tiger with a four-hit game). There are a bunch of really good hitters on this team and to have that distinction is an honor. I just tried to get out there today, put the ball in play, and get some things started for us on offense. I kept the same approach I have had all year and it just went well and just felt good today.”
This past Sunday, Wilkerson again added himself to Clemson lore with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to lift Clemson to a 6-5 win over archrival and second-ranked South Carolina, ending the Gamecocks 19-game winning streak in the process. According to Wilkerson, the walk-off hit was the sophomore’s first since walk-off hit since “back in middle school.”
Again after the game, Wilkerson deflected the praise. “It was just a big victory for our team. (Forrest) Koumas is a great pitcher and did a good job against us all weekend. He threw a good pitch and I was just trying to get a good swing on it and put it into play.”
Wilkerson also helped the Tigers break a three-game losing streak to the Gamecocks overall and ended South Carolina’s three-game winning streak in one-run contests between the rivals. The win also stopped a streak of six straight losses in one-runs games for Clemson.
“I saw that statistic earlier,” said Wilkerson, “and it is pretty crazy. It is always good to get a win, one run or not. I am just glad that we were able to get the win today. It is always good to get some momentum, especially at home, and it should help going into ACC play. This game was just another example of how this team is going to fight and not give up during any game and we are looking to carry that throughout the year.”
For the 2012 Tigers, and their fans, you know that Wilkerson is going to play a big role in that fight and the success of the season as a whole.