On the brink of not making the NCAA Tournament
DURHAM, N.C. — There was no one playing better baseball in the first half of the season than Clemson.
The Tigers cruised through the first 28 games by winning 22 of them. They won 11 of their first 15 ACC games and were in position to earn perhaps another home regional for the ACC Tournament.
But an April 12 trip to Tallahassee, Florida is when things started to turn. Clemson was swept by Florida State that weekend and has not recovered since.
The Tigers won just 11 of their final 28 regular season games, including a 4-11 mark in the ACC. Then on Tuesday they were knocked off in 11 innings by No. 12 seed Boston College, 7-5, in the ACC Baseball Championships here in Durham, North Carolina.
In all most six weeks, Clemson has gone from an almost lock to host a regional to a team now sitting on the bubble and needing a win over Louisville on Thursday to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
“It’s certainly a learning experience for all of us. It’s a learning experience for me as well as a coach,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “I try not to — I really try not to share that a whole lot with the players.”
Being on the cusp of not making the NCAA Tournament is a new experience for everyone involved with the Clemson Baseball program. The Tigers, who currently sit at No. 43 in the latest RPI rankings, have not missed the tournament since 2008, the only year since 1987 the program has not been in the national field.
In Lee’s first three years at Clemson, his teams had already locked up an NCAA Tournament berth by this time and were playing for the right to host a regional or maybe earn a national seed spot. Being in a must-win situation this time of the year is a whole new experience for everyone involved.
“I haven’t gone through this in quite a while, but I’ve been through it before (at the College of Charleston),” Lee said.” But the bottom line is I still think our team’s in good position. But we’ve got to find a way to get ready to play the next game. And that’s really what our focus has got to be right now.”
Lee says the pressure falls on him and his coaching staff to figure out a way to turn things around and to get the Tigers into position to be successful. He admits the second half of the season has been tough at times to deal with this season, but he takes all the blame for their struggles and says he has to do a better job putting his team in a better position to be successful.
“I got a responsibility to my players to try to put them in a position to be successful, to keep their heads up and just keep trying to fight and compete as hard as they can. And that’s really all that I can try to do,” he said. “I’m pretty accountable. I feel like there’s been some games here that maybe if I had done something differently maybe we would have, the outcome would have been different.
“I think you second-guess and question everything when you are going through tough times. But I second-guess and question everything when things are going well, too. It’s part of being a coach. It’s always my fault. It’s never their fault. It’s the way I approach it all the time. It’s my job to try to find the answers and help them and take the pressure off them. It’s certainly been a learning experience.”
Clemson, who was eliminated from the ACC Championships thanks to its loss to Boston College on Tuesday, will play top-seed Louisville at 11 a.m. on Thursday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.