COLUMBIA – To add a salt-and-lime juice mixture to the fresh wound that was a third straight regular-season series loss to South Carolina, the hurt that is Clemson’s 8-20 mark against the Gamecocks since 2007, a few rowdy South Carolina fans hung around to heckle Clemson and Jack Leggett as the Tigers conducted their postgame meeting just outside the third-base dugout at Carolina Stadium on Sunday. South Carolina fans let the Tigers know the recent history of the rivalry. Some voices were hoarse from screaming.
I’m guessing Leggett isn’t a prime candidate to become mayor in Columbia.
Some Twitter followers also wondered if Leggett might soon be hearing it from Clemson fans at Doug Kingsmore. Frustration is bubbling and it’s only magnified by South Carolina’s success on the CWS stage and its gem of a stadium.
But Steven Duggar, Clate Schmidt, Tyler Krieger, Zack Erwin and Maleeke Gibson each offered something over the weekend that should give hope to Clemson partisans going forward. The five freshmen each had moments of brilliance against a top-10 team in energized, sold out venues.
*What I liked about Schmidt was how he responded after allowing back-to-back home runs in Saturday’s game. He struck out the next two batters and then worked a scoreless seventh inning. For a freshman on a big stage, pitching before a sold out crowd against CU’s rival, that was a gutty performance. Oh yeah, there’s also a lot to like about his sinker/slider combination.
*What I liked about Zack Erwin was the big breaking curveball the 6-foot-5 lefty can already generate swings and misses with against a top-10 team. Every scout will like his size and I believe once he gets stronger we’ll see that mid 80s mph get some more life.
*What I liked about Tyler Krieger is the poise and smooth actions at shortstop. He plays like a senior out there and might be the best defensive shortstop Leggett has had in some time. If he hits he’ll be a star, but at the very least he’s a defensive asset at the game’s most important position.
What’s not to like about Steven Duggar? He used a compact, quick swing to smash a two-run single up the middle Saturday against USC lefty Adam Westmoreland who was brought in to face Duggar. Duggar also has above average speed and arm strength. The Houston Astros reportedly considered him in the 2nd round last June. He could become a five-tool star.
There are other freshmen like Maleeke Gibson, who can run and has a quiet approach at the plate, Matthew Crownover has star potential once he gets back to full strength, Jordan Campana struggled with his command yesterday but the coaches love his arm, and Kevin Bradley has some pop in his bat. And, maybe, just maybe, a 6-foot-3, 335-pound freshman D.J. Reader can make some developments this year and become a power threat that Clemson so desperately needs.
Yeah, Clemson lost again to its rival. It’s been a bad stretch. Historically bad. But South Carolina is ranked sixth in the nation, Clemson is retooling in a year where North Carolina and NC State will likely finish ahead of the Tigers in their division. Clemson is rebuilding but it’s rebuilding with a freshman group that Leggett thinks can be the core of his next championship-caliber team.
*Clemson has to get something done with The Doug, I think. Carolina Stadium is such an impressive facility and it gives SCar a real recruiting edge. And, I think you one argue Clemson baseball should be treated as the No. 2 sport at Clemson, not men’s basketball, given baseball’s tradition, success and better odds of playing on national platforms. What would I do? I don’t think building a new stadium is realistic (or necessary), but I think a new main grandstand and new clubhouse similar to what UNC did with Boshamer would be ideal.
*I think this Clemson team will be competitive this year because its pitching and defense are good enough to give it a chance on most nights. But it has little run for error because it has few big bats. USC’s LB Dantzler has outhomered Clemson – 4 to 2- this season through 10 games.
*Leggett said he continues to like the three-game series format with a home-and-home and neutral site involved. It’s been great for the rivalry. Three sold out games this week. However, Leggett prefers to play the neutral site game in Greenville because of travel issues. I think many prefer to see it rotated around the state.