Clemson jumped off to a solid start with an opening weekend sweep of Cincinnati at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.
The Tigers showed their ability to perform in differing situations with a comfortable 5-0 win on Friday, outlasting the Bearcats 5-2 on Saturday and staving off a comeback on Sunday with an 8-7 win on Sunday in 10 innings.
Head coach Monte Lee pointed out a couple of areas his team needs to improve on ahead of the South Carolina series this weekend. But he was pleased to start the season 3-0 after a long offseason.
“Overall, it was a great weekend, when you leave opening weekend with a sweep, you’ll take it,” he said. “There were a lot of positives, but we have a big week ahead of us and got to get better in a lot of areas.”
Lee’s biggest takeaways were Clemson’s strength in the bullpen and consistency at the plate despite a host of injuries.
The Tigers hit .293 on the weekend with 18 runs on 27 hits and looked solid 1-9 in the batting order. They showcased power with four home runs including three on Sunday with a pair of homers by catcher Johnathan French who was filling in for injured starter Adam Hackenberg.
Clemson also benefitted from quality relief appearances by Mat Clark who pitched four innings on Friday and allowed one hit, no runs, no walks and struck out six to earn a save in his first appearance of the year.
Wofford graduate transfer Rasesh Pandya looked impressive in two appearances on the weekend in 3.1 innings allowing just one hit with a walk, two strikeouts and no earned runs. Geoffrey Gilbert asserted himself as the Tiger’s closer with a two-inning save on Saturday when he allowed two hits, no runs, no walks and stuck out four.
“Our bullpen has a chance to be very good and I thought we ran a lot of quality guys out of the bullpen and all of the guys throw the ball very well in my opinion,” Lee said. “I think we have a chance to have a good pen.”
Three areas of emphasis in practice this week for the Tigers are defensive fundamentals, base running and improving in their starting pitching.
Clemson finished the weekend with a .981 fielding percentage and a pair of errors with one on Saturday and one on Sunday that led to three unearned runs and forced extra innings. Lee also hopes his team will execute with more efficiency on double-play opportunities after only turning one in the first three games.
“Defensively we played pretty solid throughout the course of the weekend except for (Sunday) on two plays, so I don’t want to make too much of that, but it was two plays we have to make there,” Lee said. “Quite frankly that’s really one of the biggest things I look at in the areas we need to improve upon.”
The Tigers were 3-for-4 in the stolen base department on the weekend and were picked off twice but executed on several opportunities to advance baserunner on bunts and sacrifice flies.
Lee also hopes to see a better outing from freshman Caden Grice in his next start. Grice pitched two innings on Sunday and allowed a pair of runs on three hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
“We are going to have to get better in the starting pitching department, we know what Davis [Sharpe] brings us and I think Ty Olenchuk is going to be very good, but we need Caden Grice to be better than he was today,” Lee said. “He was arguably our best starter in the fall so we just have to get him a little more dialed in and consistent than he was today.”
All in all Lee was impressed with his team’s abilities during opening weekend and knows that it takes time for a team to gel especially after a prolonged offseason and no scrimmage opportunities with other programs in the fall.
“We are a work in progress but that’s how it’s kind of supposed to be honestly, we are three games into the season and our guys have not played a game in 11 months so to come out and win three games I’ll certainly take it,” Lee said.
Clemson turns its attention to South Carolina this weekend with a three-game series in three venues that begins at 4 p.m. at Doug Kingsmore Stadium on Friday.
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