When Clemson had its opening opponent for the 2021 baseball season fall off the schedule due to travel restrictions and budget cuts, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not sure what kind of an opponent it might get for the season opener.
In recent years, the Tigers have opened against quality mid-major opponents. This past spring, they opened against Liberty, who won 42 games in 2019, while in previous years they have hosted Maine, Wright State, William & Mary, and South Alabama on opening weekend.
However, the team that came calling for the Tigers was not one Monte Lee expected. Michigan, led by head coach Erik Bakich, reached out to Clemson, and said it was willing to travel to Tigertown next February to open the 2021 baseball season with a three-game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“There is no contract in place. It is just an agreement at this point,” Lee told The Clemson Insider Friday when asked about hosting the Wolverines. “Typically, game contracts are not sent out until the fall. So, until we get a contract, it is not a done deal, but we have agreed in principal to have Michigan come play us on opening weekend.”
The last time the Tigers hosted another Power 5 opponent to open a season was West Virginia back in 2015.
Interestingly enough, Clemson is 0-6 all-time against the Wolverines, but the two programs have not met since 1929. Michigan swept the Tigers in a pair of games in 1925, 1928 and 1929. All six meetings were played in Clemson.
Though he can’t announce at the moment who the other two non-conference opponents are, Lee said Clemson will have perhaps one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country in 2021. Besides playing Michigan, who advanced to the Championship Series of the College World Series in 2019, and archrival South Carolina on the third weekend of the season, Clemson will also play two more perennial NCAA Tournament teams in Week 2 and Week 4. The Clemson coach said one of those teams just recently won a national championship.
“It is going to be a challenging, challenging schedule,” Lee said. “We are playing the Gamecocks and three non-conference opponents that are in and year out postseason teams. Two of the four have played in Omaha the last couple of years, so be on the lookout for the schedule.
“We put this schedule together because we are going to challenge our club. We are going to challenge our club to the best of our ability before we go into conference play. When we get into conference play, our guys are going to be ready.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down everything, Michigan was 8-7. However, the Wolverines beat No. 2 Vanderbilt to start the year at the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. They later beat No. 9 Arizona State in Tempe.
They also got a win at No. 24 Pepperdine before the pandemic hit.
As mentioned before, the Wolverines went 50-22 in 2019 and advanced to the CWS Championship Series where they lost to Vanderbilt 2 games to 1 in the three-game series.
Of course, Clemson beat the Gamecocks 2 out of 3 this past year to win its fifth season-series over South Carolina in the last six years. The Tigers will continue to play the Gamecocks in a series that contains home-and-home games with a neutral site venue sandwiched in between. This year, the game returns to Fluor Field in Greenville for Game 2.
Game 1 will be in Clemson and Game 3 will be in Columbia.
“We are just trying to put our guys in a position to compete at the highest level in college baseball, and give our fan base the highest quality product we can for home series and road series before we start ACC play,” Lee said. “We just want to challenge our program and give our fans a great product to watch when we do get to play college baseball in 2021.”
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