By Will Vandervort / Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com.
DURHAM, N.C. — Clemson head coach Jack Leggett had the same answer Friday that he had Thursday when he was asked about his Tigers’ chances of qualifying for next week’s NCAA Tournament.
The difference is on Thursday his team was coming off an impressive victory over third-ranked Louisville and on Friday he was coming off a loss in which his team booted and dropped the baseball a lot in a 6-3 loss to North Carolina.
“It’s the same answer,” Leggett said in the postgame press conference. “I think we are deserving and we’re a good enough team. Our body of work, we had some rough edges early in the mid-week (games), but on the weekends we’ve got some starting pitching. We’ve got some good baseball players. And we’ve got some guys that feel like if we get in a regional and get an opportunity, I think we could be a tough team to play.”
Leggett is right. Usually when ACC Pitcher of the Year Matthew Crownover and Zack Erwin are on the mound, the Tigers are a tough out against anyone. Ask Louisville. The Tigers outscored the Cardinals by a score of 16-3 in the two games in which Crownover and Erwin pitched.
Crownover is 10-2 this year with an ERA of 1.59, while Erwin is 7-4 and has won five of his last six starts and has a 2.66 ERA.
But when those two are not on the mound, Clemson seems like a different team for whatever the reason. In Sunday games, with the exception of last week’s Florida State series, the Tigers have struggled, especially on defense. The same could be said for mid-week games as well.
No one can really pinpoint why?
With Crownover and Erwin on the mound, though, the Tigers are 17-6 this season.
So, does this hurt or help the Tigers?
Crownover and Erwin give the Tigers a great opportunity to get in the winners bracket of a regional and Jake Long, since coming back from injury in mid-April, has pitched well enough as a third pitcher to give Clemson confidence it can possibly get past a regional tournament.
“Our first two guys, obviously, were really good, Crownover and Zack Erwin,” Leggett said. “Jake Long has been pitching well. He battles for us all the time. He’s a competitor. He was working a little bit behind the count today and getting away with it a little bit, but didn’t quite get away with it enough. He always battles for us.”
Clemson’s bullpen has improved as well. Charlie Barnes came in Friday against UNC and pitched three solid innings, allowing just two hits and the one run allowed came from an error when Eli White dropped a popup to short.
Pat Krall again pitched another scoreless inning and has not given up an earned run in his last 5.2 innings of work in relief. Taylor Vetzel has also pitched 4.2 scoreless innings in his last three appearances.
“Charlie (Barnes) pitched really well for us. He came in and cooled things down for a while during the middle innings, which was great for us. And Pat Krall, doing what he did today in the inning he pitched, he’s been doing that all season long for us. He’s been really valuable to us.”
It seems as if the Tigers are built for a long run in the postseason, the question is can Clemson get in the NCAA Tournament to take advantage of its starting pitching and its much improved bullpen?
There is a good reason why Leggett is confident they will get in. Clemson was 16-13 in the ACC this season. That’s a plus.
It’s 8-4 against top 25 teams, including a 7-4 record against top 10 teams. That’s a plus, too.
The Tigers won eight of their last 11 games, including a sweep of No. 8 Florida State in Tallahassee. And in the last three weeks, they beat third-ranked Louisville twice.
“I think we’ve done some good things against some top ten teams,” Leggett said. “We’ve played formidable on the road against teams that are top ten. We were 4-0 on the road against teams that are in the top ten.
“Our strength of schedule has been extremely tough this year. And we play in an extremely tough conference. This tournament we play in, the eight teams that are in here are all exceptional teams and all have good players. They all deserve to keep on playing in a 64-team tournament, in my opinion. But I really think that we’ve got a good opportunity to play, and hopefully that will happen on Monday. We’ll be preparing like Tyler (Krieger) said. We’ll be playing and preparing for an opportunity next weekend. And hopefully that comes in our way.”