DURHAM, N.C. — The last month has been a difficult one for the Clemson baseball program.
The Tigers struggled at times to win games. Their confidence took a shot and they have had to overcome injuries in the field and to the pitching staff.
So, when Clemson played No. 7 Louisville Thursday in Day 3 of the ACC Baseball Championship, head coach Monte Lee did not say much. He just let his team play. And play they did.
The Tigers played perhaps their best game of the season, as a team, as they beat Louisville, 7-1.
“You know what, what I saw today was a team that was pretty loose and very confident going into the ballgame,” Lee said. “I tried to be as relaxed as I could be. I feel like I’ve been on pins and needles and intense for the last month, so I honestly said maybe five words the whole game.
“I literally just said, ‘you know what, this game is in the hands of our players. There’s nothing that I can do at this point to try to get them to play their best basketball. It’s up to them.’”
Clemson (34-24) responded by getting one of the best pitching performances seen at Clemson in quite sometime by starter Mat Clark, while Kyle Wilkie drove in three runs thanks to a double and a home run and Justin Hawkins had a three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning.
The Tigers finished the game with 12 hits overall, including six, which led to five runs, off ACC Pitcher of the Year Reid Detmers.
“This game today was really about them. It had absolutely nothing to do with me. I literally just sat there and watched the game,” Lee said. “And that’s one of the things that you learn at the end of the day as a coach. You do make an impact on your guys, but at the end of the day when the lights cut on or in this case when Mat Clark toed the rubber, he put our team on his shoulders, we swung the bats well, we played good defense today, and we played like the team that I know we can be and we have been for a good portion of this season.
“So hopefully we can carry some good positive momentum into next week.”
And that was perhaps the biggest news to come from Thursday’s win at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Clemson got the win it so desperately needed to assure itself of an 11th straight NCAA Baseball Tournament bid.
“Well, I certainly think that we’re in now,” Lee said.
The win over the No. 7 team in the country initially moved the Tigers up six spots from No. 42 in the RPI rankings to No. 36. As of Friday morning, they fell back to No. 38.
“With this win today, that jumps us in the top 40 in the RPI,” Lee said. “We’re 3-1 this year against the ACC (regular season) champion (Louisville). We’re 9-7 versus the top 25 this year, okay. All of those teams are ranked in the top 16 in the country right now. And we are 8-7 versus top-20 RPI teams.
“So, I certainly think that we are a team that will be in the field of 64, and again, it was just a tremendous performance today by our team. I’ve been saying it all year long. We’ve got a good team. We’ve been through a lot of highs, we’ve been through some lows, but at the end of the day, I think this win certainly solidifies us in the field of 64, and it’s a brand-new season for us moving forward.”