Last year ended in bitter disappointment for the Clemson baseball program. After winning 24 of their first 31 games, the Tigers’ season tumbled down the stretch as they lost 19 of their last 30 games, including an embarrassing 9-2 loss to Jacksonville State in the NCAA Oxford (Miss.) Regional.
“It was a very humbling experience for all of us,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said.
The way in which the second half of the season transpired motivated the entire program.
“Again, this game will teach you an awful lot if you allow it to,” Lee said. “Last year was tough. It was a tough second half of the year. It was a tough summer for all of us.”
The Clemson skipper said there was a lot of reflecting on his part, his coaches’ part and by the players. The Tigers stunning exit from the Oxford Regional marked the first time since Lee became the head coach at Clemson that it did not make it to a regional finals.
“There was a lot of looking at what I can do a better job of,” Lee said. “As a head coach, what do we need to change? What are somethings we have to do a better job of and do differently?”
When the Tigers, who finished 2019 with a 35-26 record, got back together in the fall, their focus turned to development, and not just on the baseball field. Lee wanted them to focus on themselves as individuals first, students and then as players.
“Obviously, we threw a lot of team concepts at these guys, but it is about developing the individual and finding the strength in each individual,” he said. “We tried to build our team cultural more. We spent a lot more time on team culture and that went significantly well.
“This is a very selfless group. And it is a very unproven group, especially on the position player side. We have some young guys. We only have two guys that have played one full season as a starter in Sam Hall and Bryce Teodosio. Besides that, [Bryar] Hawkins played a good bit last year as a true freshman. David Sharpe did both and did both at a high-level last year, but we have a lot of unproven guys in terms of experience.”
But as Lee pointed out, having that inexperience can be a good thing, too. The Clemson coach says it has given his team a sense of ownership and holding each other accountable for everything they do, both on and off the field.
“So, being able to pass the baton, that is a term we have been using here lately. There are nine guys in that lineup, and we are going to have to put together nine quality at-bats and find ways to get on base and just pass the baton on to the next guy,” he said.
Clemson opens this season in less than three weeks as it hosts Liberty in a three-game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium from Feb. 14-16.
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