Monte Lee has Clemson baseball off to the best start they've had since 2010; also the best start to a season in his short tenure in Tiger Town. It took a furious comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning in Friday's opening game vs William & Mary to get Lee his first opening game win at Clemson. The Tigers trailed 4-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a comeback looked bleak. But a Robert Jolly single would score two runs and a bases loaded walk would tie it up. Chris Williams would go on to hit a walk-off single on a 2-2 count to give the Tigers their first opening day win since 2013.
They would win their next two games in the series as well; all by one run (Saturday 7-6, Sunday 2-1). This was the first time since 2010 that the Tigers swept their opening series and the first time in Clemson history that they were all won by just one run. The wins were highlighted by great pitching and great defense. The offense for the Tigers is what seemed to struggle the most which is, what Monte Lee called, a "complete 180 from fall ball." After losing over 400 innings of starting pitching from last year's team, the thought coming into the season was that hitting would be improved but pitching may be the Tigers weak spot. In the opening series, Clemson pitchers struck out 36 batters and only walked two. After Sunday's game Monte Lee expressed his view of their offense saying, "We gotta find a way to swing the bats. I'm a little frustrated just because of our expectations on offense but part of the blame is me. Maybe I'm putting a little too much pressure on them talking about it too much."
Tuesday's game against the Furman Paladins would quickly shift the narrative. The pitching and defense were still mar-key for the Tigers but the hitting picked up tremendously in this game. In a 12-4 victory for Clemson, the Tigers combined for 13 hits, 12 RBI's and six walks in just 36 at-bats. Chris Williams and Justin Hawkins both went yard in the game. Williams finished the game 2/5 hitting with six RBI's and two runs scored. Justin Hawkins went 1/1 pinch-hitting for Jolly in the bottom of the 7th inning, sending a ball towards centerfield and way out of the park. That would give him his two RBI's on the night with Williams also hitting a double the at-bat before him.
Sam Weatherly started the game for the Tigers, going 3.0 innings giving up just three hits and one earned run to go along with three strikeouts and one walk. The Millers, in relief, pitched extremely well for Clemson, combining for 4.0 innings pitched and striking out four batters while walking only one. Owen Griffith pitched one inning and struggled a bit, giving up two hits, two earned runs and walked two batters. Holt Jones saw his first action of the season in a closing role. He pitched one inning allowing one hit, one earned run and struck out two batters while walking just one.
All in all, the story through the first four games of the season is Clemson's pitching and defense but it was nice to see the offense finally come to life and string a couple good hitting innings together. After the win, Monte Lee talked about the offense coming alive saying, "Offensively, we put together some really good at-bats. First time through the order we just couldn't deliver that knockout punch. The game was pretty tight but we kinda broke it open in the fifth. Eight out of nine starters either drove in a run or scored a run." The Tigers got great production throughout the entire lineup and the midweek pitching rotation offered up some formidable performances. The Tigers defensively played another "mistake-free" game and was highlighted by a couple spectacular grabs by freshman Bryce Teodosio, who has shown in his first few games at Clemson, that he is going to be a great player for Monte Lee and his staff.
Clemson's next opponent is a really good Dallas-Baptist team that is highly regarded around the country and noted by the majority of media outlets as a potential contender for a spot in Omaha. They swept their opening series against Monmouth, outscoring them 27-11 overall. They were scheduled to play at Baylor on Tuesday but the game was postponed due to inclement weather. The upcoming series with Clemson will be both team's first true test of the season and should provide some good quality baseball for all watching.
Dallas-Baptist (3-0) vs Clemson (4-0) series info:
- Game 1: Friday, February 23 @ 4:00pm
- Game 2: Saturday, February 24 @ 1:00pm
- Game 3: Sunday, February 25 @ 1:00pm
Starting Pitchers for DBU vs Clemson • Friday - RHP MD Johnson (DBU) vs. LHP Jacob Hennessy (CU) • Saturday - LHP Jordan Martinson (DBU) vs. RHP Brooks Crawford (CU) • Sunday - RHP Luke Eldred (DBU) vs. LHP Jake Higginbotham (CU)
Dallas-Baptist: #19 d1baseball.com, #18 NCWBA, N/R BaseballAmerica preseason,
#17 USATodayCP preseason
Clemson: #25 d1baseball.com, #16 NCWBA, #12 BaseballAmerica preseason,
#21 USATodayCP preseason