If it’s validation Clemson’s softball team was looking for, the Tigers have it.
Clemson has won 83 games over the last two seasons, which have included an ACC regular-season title a year ago and back-to-back trips to the conference tournament title game. After getting passed up to host a regional last season, the Tigers’ status as one of the top programs going nationally right now was cemented Sunday when Clemson got the nod to host.
The Tigers, the 10th overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, will start what they hope is the road to the Women’s College World Series on Friday when they host UNC Wilmington in the first-ever Clemson Regional.
“I think when we got past Tuscaloosa’s regional, we let out a sigh of relief,” shortstop Alia Logoleo said, referencing the regional Clemson was sent to last season as a No. 2 seed. “We were so blown away to see our name pop up (during Sunday’s selection show), especially with the number that was in front of it.”
Not bad for a program that was literally dirt and rubble this time three years ago. That’s when Clemson’s first and only coach to this point, John Rittman, was taking recruits around campus in hardhats, showing them the site at which McWhorter Stadium and other team facilities would be built.
Seeing how the Tigers didn’t play their first-ever softball game until the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Rittman was simply selling potential at the time.
“Certainly our goal was to shock the world when we started this program,” Rittman said. “We had a dream and we had a vision. We’ve worked very hard to get to where we are at. There’s been a lot of effort put into this program not only from players and coaches but the administration, the president and the athletic director.”
Most of all, Rittman said it’s a testament to the players that have decided to buy in for the last three years that the program is well ahead of schedule. Clemson won 19 of the first 27 games it played before the 2020 season was eventually canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Tigers went 44-8 and won the ACC regular-season crown in 2021 and are now just one win away from making it back-to-back 40-win seasons.
“If you dream it, sometimes it comes true,” Rittman said. “And that was our dream from the start, to be competitive right away. Obviously had no idea success would come this quick.”
The program’s upward trajectory has fast-tracked to the first regional it’s ever hosted in just its second full season. Postseason softball has quickly arrived in Clemson, and Rittman said he’s eager to show fans who may not be familiar with the program’s progress what all the fuss is about.
“It’s really an exciting time for our program,” Rittman said. “We’re three years in our existence, and to have an opportunity to host a regional, I’m just so proud of our team, our coaching staff, our support staff. It’s a huge honor to host a regional and to be one of the best 16 teams in the country. And to be able to showcase our wonderful facility, our great fans and just what we’ve built here.”
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