It was a somber, Sunday night in Clemson as No. 2 seed Vanderbilt defeated the top-seeded Tigers, 19-6, in the Clemson Regional to end the Tigers’ hopes of advancing to a super-regional for the first time since 2010.
Despite the pain that comes along with any sports team’s season coming to an end, the journey over the course of the season is typically remembered the most. One of the most exciting journeys to watch unfold over the past two years has been the one of sophomore catcher Kyle Wilkie.
As a two-sport standout at Creekview High School, Wilkie came to Clemson as a catcher and was hit with adversity early into his collegiate career. As a freshman, he saw very limited action during the regular season. However, that suddenly changed when Chris Williams became injured late in the season and Wilkie had no choice but to step up and show his talents.
“You see a guy like a Kyle Wilkie,” said head coach Monte Lee after the final game Sunday. “Kyle Wilkie didn’t play a lot for us last year and then he had to catch in (last year’s) regional. He had a heck of a regional and look at where he is at now. Sometimes when you get those opportunities in the biggest moments to compete for your team, it helps you from a maturity standpoint.”
And Wilkie has done nothing but continue to mature and improve on the field. He finished his sophomore season with a 29-game hitting streak, the highest average on the team, batting .324 with 70 hits and 40 runs batted in. He was also the most consistent hitter with runners in scoring position and came through with clutch hits many times this season, including a two-out, two-run double in Sunday’s elimination game against St. John’s that tied the game and got the Tigers rolling.
“Kyle has leadership qualities,” Lee said. “You could tell that when he was a true freshman. This is a kid that we felt like had leadership qualities a lot like Logan Davidson when he came into the program, and there’s other guys too. But Kyle has done an amazing job for us and he is going to be a leader. He will be one of our captains next year. He’s very consistent. He works hard and he has matured a lot as a player.
“He has gotten an awful lot better this year than he was last year. Offensively, he has been phenomenal. He is the most improved player from one year to the next that I’ve had since I’ve been here. It’s just a testament to how hard he’s worked. A lot of it has to do with his makeup, his drive and his confidence in himself.”
It was not just Wilkie’s play on the field that brought so much success to him this year, but also his natural leadership qualities that Lee admires so much. Now a veteran of this team, Wilkie will go into his junior season ready to embrace an even bigger leadership role as he continues to work hard for success.
“I just think the momentum the team has created this year will really drive us,” Wilkie said. “Us guys who are coming back next year are going to have to step up because we’re losing a lot of key guys.
“We lost key guys last year, too, so there is going to need to be some guys that step up. Any momentum you can get going into the fall. I’m just going to try to be a leader next year like this guy to my left is (Chris Williams). If I can do that we’ll be alright.”