OXFORD, Miss. — Prior to Clemson’s game at Coastal Carolina on May 14, Monte Lee brought his baseball team together and explained what the stakes were.
At that time, the Tigers had four games left in the regular season and two guaranteed games in the ACC Baseball Tournament. They had six games to impress the NCAA selection committee.
Lee wanted his ball players to understand that all the preseason work, the lifting, the workouts and everything they had been through to that point came down to those six games.
Clemson (34-24) responded the way Lee was hoping they would. They beat Coastal Carolina by 11 runs, then went and took two of three games from Wake Forest to close out the regular season.
And though the Tigers lost to Boston College in the first game of the ACC Tournament, they bounced back with a big win over No. 7 Louisville, which ultimately punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“For us, it was just keep playing ball,” catcher Kyle Wilkie said. “Things are going to turn around. We are going to get there. We know we are a good baseball team so that is definitely one of the key factors.”
Lee admitted after the Louisville win that the final month of the season had been a stressful one for him, but he knew he could not show that to his players. So, prior to their game against the Cardinals, he decided he would not say anything to his team. He instead decided to stay loose and let them go play.
Lee may have said five words to his players the entire game, and they responded with perhaps their best performance of the year. Now, as No. 3 seed Clemson gets set to play No. 2 Illinois in the Oxford (Miss.) Regional today at 4 p.m. (ESPNU) from Swayze Field in Oxford, Lee plans to use that same approach.
“At this point in the season, quite honestly, it is up to the players. It really is,” Clemson’s head coach said. “There is not a lot I can do at this point, outside of trying to encourage them and keep them in good spirits. It is really just up to the players, who have been playing all year and pitching all year to play their best baseball at the right time.”
So far, Lee likes what he has seen from his ballclub. He says it seems as if they are pretty loose and enjoying the moment of playing in another NCAA Tournament Regional.
“They are kicking the little hacky sack that they like to play with, the pitchers. They are laughing and cutting up and seem to be having a good time,” Lee said. “All in all, they seem to be ready to play and be in good spirits.”