By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
COLUMBIA – Clemson head baseball coach Jack Leggett says he hopes the NCAA selection committee did not send his team to Columbia for television ratings.
The sentiment around the state all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was that ESPN asked the powers that be to send the Tigers to the Columbia Regional so it could have a top level match up to televise, despite the wishes of Clemson, South Carolina, the ACC and the SEC.
The Columbia Regional begins Friday when the Tigers take on Liberty at 1 p.m.
“I honestly hope that is not the case,” Leggett said during Thursday’s press conference at Carolina Stadium in Columbia. “This tournament is supposed to be ten people sitting in a room and figuring out what the fairest way to find who the national champion should be. Figure out the fairest way to have the regionals and the fairest way to have four teams bunched up together to try and get your best teams to Omaha.
“I would hope that is not the case because if that was the case, I would be disappointed because I know what the committee should stand for and that is to try and figure out the best way they know how to accomplish all of those things. That’s all any committee should be sitting around and thinking about.”
South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook felt the same way as Leggett, while also saying it was unfair to both Liberty and Saint Louis, who had earned their way into the tournament, to have to sit there and face questions about Clemson and South Carolina than about their own teams.
Saint Louis head coach Darin Hendrickson asked reporters not to ask him about Clemson or South Carolina unless it involved his 8 p.m. game against the Gamecocks on Friday.
This is the second year in a row Clemson and South Carolina have been paired up in the same regional. The Gamecocks beat Clemson twice in the Columbia Regional last year and eventually advanced to the College World Series for a third straight year.
USC has won six straight NCAA Tournament games against Clemson since 2002. The Tigers last win in the postseason over the Gamecocks came in 1980 in the Clemson Regional.
The thing everyone other than Clemson and South Carolina are forgetting is that they both have to beat Liberty or St. Louis first.
“Unfortunately, it puts a little different twist on the tournament because that is all everyone seems to talk about or ask questions about, and want to know what you think about it and so forth,” Leggett said. “I think the thing that serves us best tomorrow is to really just lock in on how we are playing and not worry about who we are playing against.”
Not saving anyone. Clemson announced Wednesday it will go with lefty Zack Erwin on the mound in the first game of the Columbia Regional, allowing it to save its ace Daniel Gossett for a potential rematch against the Gamecocks on Saturday.
Leggett says that can’t be further from the truth.
“At some point, your pitchers have to pitch,” he said. “You are going to have to have two, three or four starting pitchers that are going to have to pitch so what you try and figure out is what your best match up is in the first game and who you might play in the second game.
“Zack has pitched well for us and we are confident in what he can do. I like the fact that he holds the running game on pretty well and limits runs pretty well. We felt like that was going to be a good match up for us.”
Erwin has a 5-1 record in 21 innings of work this season, including five starts. He has a 3.30 ERA and held the nation’s No. 1 seed North Carolina to two runs on five hits in five and 2/3 innings pitched.
“We are not overlooking anybody or looking past anybody to get to anybody,” Leggett said. “We are just interested to try and win this first ball game and trying to figure out the best way to win this tournament.”
Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware says Erwin gives them a good chance to open the Columbia Regional with a win.
“He is a great pitcher,” Boulware said. “We needed that big start from him last week, especially playing in this kind of atmosphere, so he knows what it is like to pitch in these kinds of pressure like games. I have a lot of confidence in him. He has been working hard and he has been doing well.”
Crownover will pitch. Leggett says freshman pitcher Matthew Crownover will be available to pitch this weekend in Columbia for Clemson, though the Tigers’ head coach did not say how.
Crownover is expected to start a game, more than likely if the Tigers are playing in a game on Sunday.
The lefty has not pitched since he took himself out of the Florida State game on May 17 after he felt his left forearm tighten. He held the Seminoles to two and four hits in four and 1/3 innings. Crownover had Tommy John Surgery in March of 2012.
“I think he is going in the right direction to throw,” Clemson’s coach said. “His arm is feeling better and I think we did the right thing last week keeping him out. We wish we had a chance to use him if he was healthy and keep him in that rhythm because he is the kind of guy that has to be right on his game to be affective so the week off might affect him a little bit, but he has enough touch and feel to figure a way to make it work for himself if we have an opportunity to us him this week.”