By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
They have only played seven games, but the unity of this year’s Clemson baseball team is already starting to show somewhat.
Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over Presbyterian was a good example of that when starting pitcher Zack Erwin came out and plucked one batter, walked another and then gave up a hit to load the bases to start the game. But on the next at-bat his defense turned a double play and after loading the bases with no outs in the top of the first inning, the Blue Hose only got one run out of it.
In the bottom half of the same inning, the Tigers continued to back Erwin up as they scored three runs off five hits, highlighted by Steven Duggar’s two-out, two-run triple to the left centerfield gap.
“We realize it is a team game,” Duggar said afterwards. “Sometimes pitchers are going to go out there and not have their best stuff. As an offensive unit we have to be able to click on all cylinders and even if we don’t, the pitchers will come out and give us some support. It is just a team-game.”
And that’s exactly what happened. The pitching staff came out afterwards and backed up the offense the rest of the day.
Clemson (6-1) only managed three hits the rest of the afternoon, but Clate Schmidt, Clay Bates, Patrick Andrews and Matt Campbell held the lead as Presbyterian had only one hit in the last seven innings and three overall.
So whether it is getting that big hit with two outs with runners in scoring position or digging deep and finding that out pitch on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded or turning a double play to end an opponent’s scoring threat, Clemson seems to be find ways to step up in all three areas when they are needed the most.
“We have played pretty good defense and you play better defense when your offense is working pretty good and your pitching is good,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “We have been throwing strikes for the most part and putting the ball in play and playing good defense behind them.
“It has been a combination of all three things. We have played well since the first game. I think we have been playing pretty well overall.”
Take away that one inning in the season opener in which the Tigers gave up four runs, and they have played near flawless. During its six-game winning streak, Clemson has had its moments when its pitching has been outstanding, when its offense has been unstoppable and the defense has been error free, while making one spectacular play after another.
“It is confidence,” said Duggar, who is in the midst of a 16-game hitting streak. “All the guys believe in each other. We believe we are a good team. We are going to go up there and with every at-bat we are going to fight and we are going to give it our best shot.
“Hopefully, we can do that this weekend.”
This weekend might be the biggest challenges the Tigers have all season as they play archrival and No. 3 South Carolina in a three-game set which is scheduled to start on Friday in Columbia at 7 p.m. The Gamecocks are undefeated at 7-0 and have pitched five straight shutouts, including a school-record 51 straight scoreless innings.
“We are always confident when we play and I think our guys are confident,” Leggett said. “It will be a good challenge for us this weekend of course. It is good for college baseball. It will be a good atmosphere at all three venues. We are excited about being ready to play.”
The Tigers and Gamecocks will play Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville (2 p.m.) and then on Sunday at 4 p.m. in Clemson. Duggar says he is excited about going to Columbia to open up the three-game series.
“It is always a good time down there,” he said. “From my perspective, whenever they start booing then it means you are doing something right. Honestly, it is about staying within our approach and staying within our game and don’t try and do too much. Just continue to click on all cylinders offensively and hopefully we will come out of there victorious.”
And odds are they are going to do it in whatever way they can because that’s what good teams do. They lift each other up.