Especially if the Tigers want to win another ACC Championship
Two years ago, Clemson went to Durham Bulls Park in Durham, N.C., and won the program it is 10th ACC Tournament Championship and 15th ACC title overall. It was a memorable four days, a time no one on the 2016 team will ever forget.
In 2017, the Tigers’ time in Louisville was not so memorable. In fact, they would rather forget it entirely.
They dropped a routine popup late in their game against Duke that allowed the Blue Devils to rally for a three-run win. In their next game against Virginia, the Cavaliers smacked around starter Pat Krall early and rolled to a 10-2 win.
“We did not do anything different last year than we did before,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said Monday as the Tigers prepare for this week’s ACC Tournament in Durham, N.C. “I think the bottom line is, to win the tournament, you have to have great starting pitching and you have to have quality starts and you have to have a good bullpen and you can’t beat yourself.”
What Lee described has been Clemson’s key to success all season and why they closed the regular season with 17 wins in their last 19 games and winners in 11 of their last 12 ACC games.
“You have to be able to score first and score early and put the pressure in the other dugout,” he said. “When you play in the postseason, when you are down, you feel it. That is the bottom line. We all understand how important these games are if you are trying to win a tournament, you are trying to win a regional.
“When you get down, it is a little bit different so being able to get a bunt down early in a ballgame in the postseason matters because if you can score first you can put pressure in that other dugout. They have to make decisions based on when to take that starter out or when to leave him in.”
Clemson (43-13, 22-8 ACC) comes into the ACC Tournament as the No. 2 seed. The 43 overall wins were the most in the regular season for the Tigers since the 2006 team did the same things. The 22 wins tied North Carolina for the ACC Regular Season Championship—the program’s first since 2006— while also marking the second most ACC wins ever in a season.
The Tigers will face No. 11 seed Notre Dame on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., Clemson’s first game in this year’s tournament.
“Everything is amplified in the postseason,” Lee said. “We are in the postseason. If there is anything I have learned right now is that our team is 0-0. Our batting averages are .000. Our ERA is 0.00. Why am I saying that? Somebody is going to have to step up out of the bullpen for us or in the lineup and be able to give us something they have not been able to give us up to this point.”
Mike Triller was that guy two years ago. After having a great series at Notre Dame in the final regular-season series, Lee penciled him into the lineup in the ACC Tournament and he went on to win ACC Tournament MVP, while the Tigers won another championship.
Prior to the AC Tournament, Triller had 12 at-bats all year.
“An unsung hero, sort of speak, is going to have to step up for Clemson, whether it is out of the bullpen or in the lineup and give us something the Big 3 out of the pen or the Big 3 in the lineup can’t, somebody else is going to have to give us something if we are going to be able to win this tournament and make a deep run.”