CLEMSON — The pessimist notes Clemson lost its second series in three weeks with a 8-5 defeat to Virginia on Sunday, falling to 11-7 overall and 3-3 in the ACC. The early season resume does not suggest June travel arrangements to Omaha will be necessary.
The optimist counters that Clemson — which started three freshmen Saturday — has played three top 25 teams during that stretch: losing a series to No. 5 South Carolina, beating No. 16 N.C. State and Wolfpack ace Carlos Rodon, and being a blown save away from taking a series from No. 22 Virginia.
Count Clemson coach Jack Leggett in the latter camp.
“I thought we played really, really tough,” Leggett said. “Friday night we just let it slide away. We just have to get a little tougher relief pitching. We hit some good (Virginia) pitching that’s as good of pitching, from top to bottom, that you are going to see. (Thomas) Brittle had a pretty good weekend for us, he’s starting to swing the bat a little bit.
“I like our team.”
Yes, closer Matt Campbell blew a save Friday night that proved to prevent a series victory. Yes, Clemson’s relief pitching allowed two more runs Sunday that derailed Clemson’s comeback attempt.
But the Tigers believe the bullpen woes might just be the product of a small sample size. They like their depth of arms. What Leggett hopes is not a small sample aberration is the team’s improved offense.
Virginia entered the series with each of its weekend starting pitchers possessing sub-2.00 ERA. Clemson collected 35 hits on the weekend, including 14 Sunday.
Virginia starting pitcher Nick Howard entered Sunday with a 0.81 ERA and set down the first 11 Clemson batters in order, but he allowed seven hits over the next three-plus innings and was knocked from the game after six innings.
Five Clemson players had multi-hit games including Brittle, a College of Charleston transfer, who was moved down in the lineup to the seventh hole. It’s imperative Clemson get Brittle’s bat going again as Brittle was a key table setter for the Tigers in last season’s NCAA push.
“I stopped thinking as much as I had been and started simplifying everything,” Brittle said. “Whenever you are in the box, if you are not just thinking about picking up the pitch and swinging, you are already putting yourself in hole. (As a team) I think we are more aggressive at the plate.”
Clemson starting pitcher Scott Firth entered with a 0.98 ERA but with a 2-2 record telling of both his early success in transitioning from the bullpen and the team’s struggling offense.
Firth needed 67 pitchers to get through the first two innings. He allowed six runs, nine hits and two walks over five innings.
“I think was just going too fast,” Firth said. “I kind of got out of my game (of) staying in control and pounding the zone.”
Clemson hopes its offensive gains are for real but if any of its weekend starters consistently struggle it has depth in freshmen Matthew Crownover and Zack Erwin, whom Leggett said might get a start Wednesday. Erwin, a 6-5 lefty, allowed just one run in five innings of relief Saturday.