When Clemson fans looked at the 2018 baseball schedule last fall and saw Austin Peay was coming to Clemson late in the year for a three-game series, they immediately thought, “That will be a three-game sweep for the Tigers.”
However, Clemson was not thinking that at all.
“Sometimes when you are in that other dugout, you are not supposed to win,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “Nobody thinks you are going to win so you can go out and compete free and easy and have fun competing.”
That is exactly what Austin Peay did this past weekend at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson. The Governors had so much fun, they came within a hit of beating the Tigers in the three-game series.
Austin Peay beat No. 4 Clemson (39-13) in Game 1 on Friday and then had the go-ahead run at second base in the 11th inning of Game 3 on Sunday.
“It was definitely a wake up call,” pitcher Ryley Gilliam said following Clemson’s 3-2 win in 11 innings on Sunday. “We have to understand there are teams out there that are not ACC and Power 5 teams that can play like them. Austin Peay is a prime example of that.”
Clemson more than likely will see an Austin Peay type team again the NCAA Regionals in two weeks.
“That is what you get sometimes when you are dealing with a three or a four seed. I have been that team,” Lee said. “So I know what it is like to be able to play against a program like Clemson, whether it is in the regular season, a three-game series or in the postseason.
“Those guys are free an easy and they are excited about playing. That is a great feeling to have. The pressure often times is in our dugout. We are expected to win. We are expected to win series at home.”
Many expected the Tigers to sweep Austin Peay this week and perhaps the Tigers did a little too. Nevertheless, this past weekend was a good experience because they were able to learn from it and it not hurt them.
They know now, if they underestimate a non-Power 5 team in the NCAA Tournament, there might not be a second chance.
“It is just more experience,” said Sunday’s hero Grayson Byrd, whose walk-off home run lifted the Tigers to victory in the 11th inning. “We did not take them lightly coming into this series. We knew they could play. Obviously, their stats show that.
“It is one of those things for sure that you will have to put them away early and try not to let them stay in the game if you can.”
Lee says it was a good lesson for his team. They now understand they have to be able to deal with the frustration of playing in a game like that against an opponent everyone expects them to beat.
“Our guys understand that they have to be able to play with pressure and they have to be able deal with the frustration of the game,” the Clemson coach said. “We try to do that in our dugout. We try to bring that mentality, but it is awfully hard when the expectations are what they are at Clemson.”