Category archive: Clemson Tigers
CLEMSON, S.C. -- After Saturday night's game against No. 1 Clemson in an NCAA baseball tournament regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore joked with Tigers coach Jack Leggett on the field.
"I told him I thought moving to his dugout, where he beat my butt so many times, might give me some luck," Gilmore said.
It didn't matter which dugout the No. 2 seed Chanticleers used on Saturday night, as the No. 1 seed Tigers rolled to a 12-7 victory in front of a crowd of 5,408 fans. In the process, the Tigers took control of the Clemson Regional and are now one victory away from advancing to an NCAA Super Regional for the sixth time in seven seasons.
"It definitely always feels better to be playing in the winners' bracket," Clemson third baseman John Hinson said.
The Chanticleers, who used ace Anthony Meo in Friday's 13-1 victory over No. 3 seed Connecticut, will have to beat the Huskies in an elimination game on Sunday and then beat the Tigers twice to advance to a Super Regional.
A day after Meo allowed one run in 6.1 innings for the Chanticleers, they used seven pitchers against Clemson, none of which were very effective.
"We couldn't have text-booked it any better [on Friday]," Gilmore said. "We were in remedial school today. We were terrible. If we pitch like that tomorrow, we'll be on the bus."
The Tigers chased Coastal Carolina starter Keith Hessler after only 1.2 innings, taking a 4-2 lead after two innings. Clemson blew the game open with a four-run eighth and had 14 hits, including three homers.
"I think everybody, from one through nine, was just swinging and swinging at pitches up in the zone," Tigers left fielder Jeff Schaus said. "When those guys made a mistake, we made them pay."
The Tigers came into the NCAA tournament as one of the country's hottest teams, winning 17 of their last 21 games and each of their last six ACC series.
Maybe it's not a coincidence the Tigers switched bats in late April; they're hitting .346 with 17 homers in 20 games since switching to the new models.
Now Clemson is matching its solid pitching with hot hitting.
"I think it's just getting into crunch time and having a full season of at-bats," said Tigers first baseman Richie Shaffer, who went 3-for-4 with four RBI. "Everybody is swinging the bats well and hitting is contagious."
So is good pitching.
Leggett said Justin Sarratt, a right-handed junior, would start against the winner's of Sunday's game between the Chanticleers and Huskies. Sarratt is 7-2 with a 2.40 ERA.
With one more victory, the Tigers will move a step closer to reaching the College World Series for the seventh time under Leggett.
The Chanticleers are hoping they'll be standing in the way.
"It's up to [the players]," Gilmore said. "We've done it and a large part of that group is here. A lot of it's not looking at how big the mountain is. It's taking one step and then another step. It's not something that can't be done."
Are you ready for some baseball? Division I college baseball gets under way at 10 a.m. ET on Friday with the first two games of the Big East-Big Ten Baseball Challenge. If everything goes according to plan, one of the final games of opening weekend will feature Florida International's Garrett Wittels attempting to break Robin Ventura's 58-game hitting streak on ESPNU/ESPN3.com (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET).
While the first pitch of the season has yet to be thrown, it's never too early to start looking forward to June and the first College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Defending champion South Carolina lost its top two starting pitchers from last year's squad but returns a talented offensive core and has one of the best bullpens in the country. Last year's CWS field included several programs on the upswing. Arizona State was the only team from the 2009 field to return to Omaha in 2010; this year, the Sun Devils could be the only team not to earn a return trip to Nebraska. The talent level isn't down in Tempe, but unless the NCAA sanctions are reversed, ASU is barred from the postseason.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikESPN Preseason All-American Trevor Bauer leads a talented Bruins staff.
The 2011 season will see another change that could have an even bigger effect than the CWS' move three miles up 13th Street. College baseball is changing the specifications for aluminum bats from measuring the ball exit speed (BESR) to the coefficient of restitution (BBCOR). Early indications from fall practices are that power numbers will be down -- a lot. Small ball could become an even bigger part of the college game, which would favor several West Coast teams in a year when that region already appears to be extremely strong. Combined with the flipped orientation from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park -- where the wind is more likely to blow in than out -- pitching and clutch hitting could share the spotlight in late June.
Predicting the field, and especially the teams with the best chances at reaching Omaha, is tricky in mid-February. Using the 2010 preseason coaches' poll, only three of the top eight teams earned national seeds, and just two finished their season at Rosenblatt. Eventual national champion South Carolina and runner-up UCLA both started just outside the Top 25. High early-season expectations are usually enough to get into the tournament, as only East Carolina and Ohio State failed to make the field after appearing in the preseason Top 25.
This is the first time I've attempted to pick the field before the season started. My results at the end of last season were good but not great, but in some cases I favor my bracket to the official NCAA field. I was within one seed on six of the eight national seeds, overseeding Virginia by three spots and picking South Carolina over Georgia Tech for the final top-eight spot (with the way things played out, that looks like a good decision). Of the 34 at-large bids, I had 32 in my final bracket, and the two I omitted topped my "first nine out" section. California was my first team out (and most egregious miss, since it was the No. 2 seed in Norman) but went 0-2; Louisiana-Lafayette was my second team out and went 1-2 in the Austin Regional. The two teams from my bracket that missed regional play were Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast; Kentucky had a solid RPI but missed the SEC tournament, while FGCU won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title in its first year of tournament eligibility behind ace Chris Sale but fell in the conference tournament. Of the 16 regional sites, I got two exactly right (Atlanta and Norwich) and three of four teams for three more (Auburn, Gainesville, Louisville).
Now that I've dispensed with the caveats, here's my initial projection:
Los Angeles Regional
Last five in: Florida International, Nebraska, Western Carolina, San Diego State, Liberty
First nine out: Kentucky, Elon, NC State, Pittsburgh, Tulane, Oklahoma State, Cal Poly, Southeastern Louisiana, USC
With the exception of Arizona State, which is banned from the postseason, all the teams that played in the final CWS in Rosenblatt earn regional hosting assignments and No. 1 seeds, with the top four national seeds all gunning for a return to Omaha. The other four national seeds all fell 2-1 in super regionals last year, so this bracket is biased toward last year's elite teams. The road from opening day to Selection Monday is bumpy enough that the final field probably won't look like this, but there's a lot of returning talent from last year, and the top squads have reloaded quickly.
Eleven of the 30 conferences with automatic bids send more than one team to a regional. The usual suspects lead the charge, with the SEC (eight), Pac-10 (seven), ACC (six) and Big 12 (six) each in the running to send at least a half-dozen teams to the postseason. The Big East and Sun Belt seem poised to send three teams to a regional for the second straight year, while Conference USA and the Big West should pick up a third bid after only nabbing two last season. For the three conferences slated for two bids, there's one clear leader and one bubble team: Coastal Carolina (Big South), TCU (Mountain West) and College of Charleston (Southern) should be locks to make the field, but Liberty, San Diego State and Western Carolina could be on the wrong side of the bubble if they don't secure automatic bids.
Darryl Dennis/Icon SMIDanny Hultzen and the Cavs are focused on getting to Omaha this season.
Connecticut has the talent to earn a national seed, but the Huskies are in uncharted territory. Last year's great northern hope was Ohio State, and the Buckeyes failed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament after starting the year in the Top 25. UConn needs to overcome a tough early-season trip to California and a bull's-eye on its back during Big East play; that will make the Huskies stronger for postseason play but could cost them some wins and a top spot.
The order of finish for the SEC is always tough to determine, especially considering how quickly a strong recruiting class can pay dividends. Odds are that the eight teams that reach the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., will still be playing in June, but at this point it's hard to count any of the 12 teams out. The top three teams coming into the season are all in the Eastern Division, and it's unlikely that three teams from the same division would all earn national seeds -- much like the early part of the season last year, South Carolina draws the short straw.
The top half of the ACC seems more clear-cut, with Virginia, Florida State and Clemson jockeying for a national seed. Danny Hultzen and six returning hitters give Virginia an early advantage, but the Seminoles and Tigers aren't far behind. At least one of those teams should earn a top-eight spot, with the other two battling for the final spot with the SEC third-place team, the Big 12 second-place team and Connecticut.
The biggest issues for the Pac-10 could be the depth of the conference and Arizona State's postseason ban. The Sun Devils should still pile up wins this year, and every conference win is a lost opportunity for the other Pac-10 schools. The conference won't match its eight bids from last season; seven bids seems most likely, but if ASU sweeps any of the middle-of-the-pack teams, six bids is a possibility.
Three and a half months of action on the field before the NCAA tournament field is announced. Let the games begin!
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.
OMAHA, Neb. -- Only three of the national seeds made it to Omaha for the College World Series. Now the series' top two seeds are in the loser's bracket.
Clemson upset top-ranked Arizona State in the first of three games Monday, never trailing in the 6-3 victory in front of an early crowd of 14,198 at Rosenblatt Stadium, who saw the first pitch at 10:22 a.m. local time.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikClemson got to ASU starter Seth Blair early to give him his first loss of the season.
"It proves we can play with anybody," said Clemson second baseman Mike Freeman, who went 2-for-5. "We're just filled with that confidence that we can compete with anybody and let everyone know that we might be the last seed here, but we're not to be overlooked. We've got guys on this team who are as good as anyone in the nation."
Among them is pitcher Casey Harman (8-3), who helped give Sun Devils starter Seth Blair (12-1) his first loss in his 18th start.
"Clemson did a good job of being very patient," Arizona State coach Tim Esmay said. "His pitch count was over 100 through four innings and when they got a pitch, they hit it."
Fourteen times, in fact. Half of those came against Blair, who left his bullpen trying to rebound from a 5-1 deficit. All 14 Tigers hits were singles, no player had more than one RBI, and each player in the starting lineup recorded a hit.
"Everybody contributed," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said.
The Tigers did the most damage in the fifth inning, when they stretched their lead to 5-1 and sent Blair off the mound.
A pair of singles by third baseman John Hinson and Wilson Boyd added runs. Clemson got an easy run when first baseman Richie Shaffer hit a pop fly to left field, but Drew Maggi lost the ball in the sun, letting it drop a few feet in front of him and adding to Clemson's edge.
"They won the battle of the freebies today," Esmay said. "We just gave away a lot of freebies."
Arizona State (52-9) must climb out of the loser's bracket. Monday was the Sun Devils' first loss of the postseason, but they haven't lost two consecutive games all season.
"It's a double-elimination tournament. They just used their get-out-of-jail-free card," Esmay said. "Last I checked, we get to put the uniform on tomorrow. We still get an opportunity to play, and that's how we're going to approach this thing."
Said third baseman Raoul Torrez: "We're going to come tomorrow and play how we've been playing all year long, that's for sure. There's a reason why we haven't lost consecutive games."
We're two-thirds of the way through the college baseball regular season, and this year has been crazier than ever. Outside the top 10, the disparity between rankings and RPI is quite extreme, and several schools with solid rankings are struggling in conference play. There are still six weeks left to play out the season, which is good -- at this point I wouldn't want to make any final decisions.
After struggling last year and receiving only three postseason bids, the Pac-10 is back in top form this year. Nine of the 10 schools are in position to make a run at the NCAA tournament, including Oregon in the second year since the program was reintroduced. The SEC is as strong as ever -- it's likely that all eight teams that make it to Hoover will play into June, and nine or 10 bids for the league aren't outside the realm of possibility.
If these two conferences eat up a quarter of the slots in the tournament, it's likely to come at the expense of the Big West and Conference USA. Both perennial power conferences are having down years, to the extent that each could be a one-bid league.
Outside the "Big Six" baseball conferences, the Sun Belt and Big East are having great years. Louisville has put itself into the running for a national seed, but is in a dogfight for the top spot in the Big East with Connecticut, Rutgers and Pittsburgh. The Sun Belt has passed both C-USA and the Big West in RPI, and could get as many as four invitations to the postseason.
For this initial projection, there are 12 conferences with more than one bid:
9 teams: SEC
7 teams: ACC, Pac-10
6 teams: Big 12
3 teams: Big East
2 teams: Big South, Big West, Conference USA, Mountain West, Southern, Southland, Sun Belt
Shaking out the top 16 teams from a list of 20 candidates proved harder than normal at this point, as this is where the disparity between conference standing, polls and RPI reared its head. There are seven teams in the SEC that could lay claim to No. 1 regional seeds, but based on past history that number is more likely to settle at four. There are also more teams than slots in the ACC, where five teams are vying for top slots. At this point, conference standings rule the day -- that leaves Clemson on the wrong side of the divide in the ACC, with Vanderbilt, Auburn and (especially) Alabama out in the SEC.
Eliminating those four teams from contention for a No. 1 seed leaves three spots open once you get past the "secure" teams from other conferences (Arizona State, Coastal Carolina, Louisville, Texas, UCLA). Cal State Fullerton and TCU claim two of those bids with their first-place conference standings and strong overall résumés. The overall strength of the conference nets the Pac-10 a third bid, with California edging out Arizona by winning the head-to-head series.
All but one of the No. 1 seeds will host a regional. The lack of lights at California is likely to force the NCAA to look elsewhere, so the excluded ACC and SEC schools come back into play. Clemson is unlikely to get the nod as a third host in South Carolina, while Alabama's low conference standing makes it an unlikely host. Vandy wins the race against Auburn based on higher standing in both the RPI and human polls.
Here's the breakdown by conference for the 16 host sites through April 19:
ACC (4): Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia
Big 12 (1): Texas
Big East (1): Louisville
Big South (1): Coastal Carolina
Big West (1): Cal State Fullerton
MWC (1): TCU
Pac-10 (2): Arizona State, UCLA
SEC (5): Arkansas, Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
It's time to unveil the 16 regionals. National seeds are listed, and the regional following the national seed is paired against it in the super regionals.
No. 1 Arizona State
No. 2 Arkansas
No. 3 Texas
|Fort Worth Regional
No. 4 Georgia Tech
|Baton Rouge Regional
No. 5 LSU
|Coral Gables Regional
Florida Gulf Coast
No. 6 Virginia
No. 7 Coastal Carolina
College of Charleston
|Los Angeles Regional
No. 8 UCLA
Cal State Fullerton
Last five in: UC Irvine, Kentucky, Ole Miss, College of Charleston, North Carolina
First nine out: VMI, Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette, Michigan, Baylor, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Mississippi State, Tulane
Louisville fans have a legitimate gripe with this bracket. The Cardinals were under consideration for a national seed, losing out narrowly to Coastal Carolina and UCLA. The NCAA doesn't seed the other eight No. 1 seeds, and most of the other regionals paired off well geographically, so Louisville draws the short straw and is paired up with Arizona State. If Louisville captures the Big East crown (and especially if UCLA continues to struggle in conference play), the Cardinals can lay claim to a national seed and force the committee to pair someone else with the Sun Devils.
UC Irvine narrowly makes the field, sparing the Big West from earning just one bid in 2010. East Carolina also falls on the right side of the bubble to join first-place Rice from Conference USA.
Three SEC teams sit squarely on the bubble, with one or two bids at stake. Until the conference race plays out, Kentucky and Ole Miss look like better bets to make the field than Mississippi State.
VMI (Big South), Georgia Southern (SoCon) and Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt) narrowly miss earning a third bid for their respective conferences. Their fate likely rests in the hands of regular-season champions from one-bid leagues winning their conference tournaments.
And the very last team in the field is North Carolina. The Tar Heels have ended their season in Omaha each of the past four years, but a 6-12 start to ACC play (and a tough finishing schedule) puts the team in a perilous position. The pollsters and RPI still like the Heels, so for now UNC gets the final invite.
That does it for this week's aluminum-bat version of bracketology. This will be a weekly feature heading up to the selection show on Memorial Day, and your comments are welcome.
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.
Spence, an easygoing Australian, baffled Clemson on Sunday night. He hurled a four-hitter as the Sun Devils romped 8-2 and earned a two-game sweep in the Tempe Super Regional. They are headed to Rosenblatt Stadium for their 21st College World Series.
Spence had pitched only seven innings since April 26 and gave up 14 earned runs in his previous four appearances. He had been battling a hand injury that almost ended his season a month ago.
He stuck out 10 Tigers Sunday and walked just one, and he looked a lot like the guy who started the season 7-0 with a 1.01 ERA through April 11.
"He made it look almost easy tonight," Arizona State skipper Pat Murphy said.
Spence gave up a solo home run to Jeff Schaus in the fourth inning, but his teammates responded with five runs in the top of the fifth. The Sun Devils ended any mystery about the evening's outcome with three more runs in the ninth.
Jason Kipnis, Kole Calhoun and Matt Newman each had two RBIs for the Sun Devils, who improved to 49-12. They have won 16 of their past 17 games.
Spence (9-1) required a heat pad in the early going for a back strain he suffered in last week's regionals, but the Clemson hitters were doing the most wincing while trying to solve the savvy and unpredictable lefty.
"I don't think he started anybody off with the same pitch back-to-back," noted Tigers first baseman Ben Paulsen, who fanned twice.
Spence said his go-to pitch was his slider, adding that his hand isn't bothering him any more.
Arizona State, which allowed only six runs in two games against Clemson, entered the super regionals leading the nation in team ERA. With Spence and All-American Mike Leake (16-1), the nation's leader in victories, the Sun Devils will bring a potent one-two punch to Omaha.
"When they are right, they are as good as anybody," Murphy said.
And Spence looked plenty right against the Tigers.
ASU will play North Carolina (47-16), the No. 4 seed, either Saturday or Sunday. The Tar Heels swept East Carolina in their super regional earlier Sunday.
The fifth-seeded Sun Devils, now 49-12, backed a virtuoso, complete-game performance from starter Josh Spence with a five-run fifth inning after the Tigers (44-20) took a 1-0 lead in the previous frame. ASU added three insurance runs in the top of the ninth to discourage any potential Clemson rally.
Spence gave up just four hits. He'd thrown only seven innings since April 26 due to a hand injury that at one point looked like it might end his season. He also hurt his back during last week's regional.
He looked pretty healthy while striking out 10 and walking just one.
Kole Calhoun had three RBI, and Jason Kipnis and Matt Newman chipped in two apiece for the Sun Devils. Jeff Schaus belted a home run for Clemson, which added a run in the bottom of the ninth off Spence.
ASU will play North Carolina (47-16), the No. 4 seed, either June 13 or 14, in Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium. The Tar Heels swept East Carolina in their super regional earlier Sunday.
Clemson, down 5-1 after seven innings, may see that streak end.
Arizona State is 45-0 when leading after eight innings.
Also, the Sun Devils are 37-0 when they outhit an opponent. They own a 8-2 advantage so far tonight.
Before surrendering a two-out walk in the seventh, ASU starter Josh Spence had sent down nine in a row since giving up a homer to Jeff Schaus in the fourth inning.
With one out and runners on second and third, Kipnis drilled a 2-1 pitch up the middle that plated both runners and gave the Sun Devils a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. Clemson had just broken up the scoreless game with a homer the preceding half-inning.
Then the gates opened for ASU.
Kipnis, perhaps a little amped up, appeared to be picked off at first, but the throw from pitcher Chris Dwyer went over the first baseman's head and Kipnis advanced to third.
That got Dwyer the hook, and senior right-hander Matt Vaughn entered the game.
He walked Carlos Ramirez, and then Kole Calhoun delivered a two-run double to center, making the count 4-1.
Then, with two outs, Matt Newman scored Calhoun with a double of his own, and the Sun Devils took a commanding 5-1 lead.
Now let's see how Josh Spence comes back after a long rest.
Jeff Schaus ripped a two-out home run just over the right field fence to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead over the Sun Devils after four innings.
It was Schaus' 13th home run and 40th RBI this season.
It was just the third hit of the game. Both pitchers have seven K's.
Arizona State has stranded three runners on second base and has two hits and two walks, but the Sun Devils haven't broken through against Clemson's Chris Dwyer, who's struck out five.
Meanwhile, ASU starter Josh Spence hasn't allowed a baserunner and has six strikeouts.
Dwyer, however, has thrown 57 pitches, while Spence's pitch count is at just 37.