By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
COLUMBIA — When second baseman Steve Wilkerson launched a shot that went out of Carolina Stadium and across the road in Saturday’s 10-2 win over Saint Louis, Clemson head coach Jack Leggett knew that was the shot in the arm his team needed.
During their six-game losing streak, the second seeded Tigers had been lethargic at times, especially in losses to Miami and Liberty.
“That was a big deal for us,” Leggett said after the game. “I could feel it in the dugout. It was kind of a little bit of a relief. ‘Okay, now we can relax a little and go to work. We have (Daniel Gossett) on the mound, who usually gives us a lot of good innings and he is always tough to score off.’
“I think the momentum of Stevie’s hit, the momentum changed and the next thing you know we are up 3-1 and I think that really helped us.”
It especially helped Gossett relax. The Tigers’ ace did not have his best stuff as he fought through several innings early on, but allowed just one run. Saint Louis was 0-for-5 against him with runners in scoring position. Though he gave up five hits, he also walked five batters.
“I was working through a little mechanical issues and I was able to make some adjustments here and there,” said Gossett, who improved to 10-4 on the season. “I was able to talk to (Dan Pepicelli) and he helped me out where I needed to be helped out.
“I did not feel like I was pressing. I just need to fix a couple of things.”
While Gossett was trying to figure things out, the Clemson offense gave him a little help as the Tigers extended the lead to 6-1 in the top of the fourth inning thanks to Wilkerson’s second home run of the game and in as many innings. His second one was a three-run shot to right.
Kennedy also had a solo home run in the third inning.
“We have not been hitting the ball as well as we can and today was a do-or-die game and we just did not squeak it across,” Gossett said. “It’s renewed confidence. We scored ten runs in a game where we only need to score three. To see the bats going again, it‘s renewed our confidence and I think it is going to be great for us.”
Leggett said it settled Gossett down. Though he gave up a solo home run in the fifth inning, his six-inning day ended by getting six of the last seven batters he faced out.
“I battled against those little mechanical flaws and then made some adjustments,” Gossett said. “(Pepicelli) said to stay within yourself and keep working, don’t try to do too much or be perfect and just throw the baseball.”
Gossett and reliever Kyle Schnell really helped Clemson’s pitching as they combined to give up just seven hits in the win. That saves the Tigers’ arms for Sunday. For Clemson to get through possibly playing two games on Sunday, they need all the arms they can find.
“We just have to build a tournament right now,” Leggett said. “It is not the easiest way to do it, but to be honest with you we have not done anything easy for a long, long time.”
But Leggett was just glad to see his team, and especially Wilkerson, having fun again. That fun helped the Tigers avoid being swept in NCAA Tournament play for the first time in their last 26 appearances.
“If you hit in this game, then you are obviously having some fun,” Leggett said. “This is a fun game when you are hitting the ball. When you are not hitting the ball, this game can break you down.
“Stevie is keeping a pretty even keel about things. He has a pretty positive outlook on things. He always feels pretty good about himself. I didn’t realize he was two for his last twenty five, but he keeps his head in the game and keeps on battling. He did nice job of that.”