Monte Lee says he and his coaching staff have a plan for his pitching staff at this weekend’s NCAA Oxford (Miss.) Regional, and it starts with junior Jacob Hennessy.
Lee announced the lefty will get the ball first when No. 3 seed Clemson faces No. 2 Illinois in Game 1 Friday (4 p.m.) at Swayze Field in Oxford.
“We feel very good about our starting pitching,” Lee said Tuesday. “I said yesterday that our three starters, we feel very confident in all three. We feel like Jacob is the right call to go in Game One. We had lengthy discussions about it yesterday and a lengthy meeting about it this morning and we feel very good as a staff going with Jacob in Game One.”
Hennessy will come into Game 1 with a 4-1 record in 19 appearances this season. The lefty has started five games this year, including a gem of a performance in a win over Wake Forest on May 17.
Facing one of the best hitting teams in the country in the Demon Deacons, Hennessy retired 13 straight batters at one point as Clemson built a big lead. He left the game in the eighth inning after tying a career-best 7 1/3 innings of work. The lefty allowed just two runs on six hits and struck out seven while issuing just one walk.
Lee explained that going with Hennessy was more about the numbers than anything else.
“We feel like for us, we feel very good about all three of our starters going against Illinois,” he said. “There were points to be for starting all three. We are trying to win this regional and we feel like to set our pitching up the way that we want to set our pitching up, going with Jacob in Game One was the right move for us and for our team.
“It was not so much about the matchup with Illinois as much as it was to set our pitching up with the goal in mind of winning the regional.”
As for Illinois (36-19), it is a team that hits for contact. They will not overpower anyone, but they have got hitters that spray the ball all over the field and seldom do they strikeout.
Outfielder Zac Taylor leads the team with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs. He is also second on the team with a .331 average and an on-base percentage of .411. Taylor also leads Illinois with 20 steals in 23 attempts.
Grant Van Scoy leads the Illini with a .347 batting average and .440 OBP. He has 22 RBIs.
“We all know how important Game One is, how critical winning Game One is, but we also understand how critical winning Game Two is, so they are both very, very important,” Lee said. “We made the decision to go with Hennessy with the mindset that we are trying to win this regional.”
That means if the Tigers have to use Davis Sharpe or Mat Clark out of the bullpen on Friday then that is what they’re going to do.
“We are trying to be as optimistic as possible but also make sure we do not undervalue Game One,” Lee said. “If the stars align and we are fortunate enough to win Game One, and we are going to do everything we can to win Game One, even if that means comprising future starting plans over the weekend to use certain guys out of the bullpen, we are going to run everybody we can at Illinois in Game One to try and win Game One.”
If the Tigers (34-24) do win Game 1 and they do not have to use Clark, the redshirt sophomore will get the start in Game 2. The last time Clark pitched, he started the game by retiring the first 22 batters, as he went into the eighth inning throwing a perfect game against Louisville. He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning.
Should the Tigers play a third game in the regional, then Sharpe is likely to get the start, depending on how things are going out of the bullpen.
“We are going to use whatever weapons we have at our disposal out of the bullpen to win Game Two, then we will see where we are after that,” Lee said. “So, that is kind of our plan up to this point. There are way too many scenarios to try to map out three-to-four-game scenarios in a regional.
“We are focusing on our two games and we feel like Hennessy is the right guy to start in Game One. If we are fortunate enough to get through Game One and there is a possibility, we can use Sharpe in Game One out of the bullpen to win that game, because we all know how critical that game is, then we will go with Clark in Game Two. But we will cross the bridge of Game Two once we get there, but that will be our plan up to this point.”