CLEMSON -- After an April of discontent, Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett is hoping the Tigers have corrected course entering a new month.
After three straight ACC series losses, the Tigers completed a series win against Florida Gulf Coast with a 14-2 victory Tuesday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
While the four-game series sounded like a midseason respite, it was anything but against the Eagles (28-15), who are ranked 63rd in RPI.
The Tigers (28-17) dropped the first game to a likely first-round pick in Florida Gulf Coast ace Chris Sale, the second straight weekend they've struggled with an opponent's hard-throwing No. 1 starter.
On Sunday, the Tigers halted their struggles in close games, winning their first one-run game since March 14 to complete a doubleheader sweep, though the win also included Leggett asking a heckling fan to end his critical remarks of the Tigers.
Events calmed Tuesday as a Mike Freeman grand slam and a Kyle Parker RBI double highlighted a seven-run second inning, which was more than enough support for Alex Frederick, who allowed two runs over five innings.
"The kids are feeling a little bit better," Leggett said. "They're more confident. I think that's the biggest key."
The Tigers sit safely in the NCAA field.
Clemson has an RPI of 13. On Tuesday, Baseball America listed the Tigers as one of seven ACC teams in the NCAA field.
But Clemson's 7-10 April has cost the Tigers a shot at hosting.
Baseball America has Coastal Carolina and South Carolina hosting regionals, and SEbaseball.com has Clemson traveling to South Carolina as a No. 2 seed in its latest projection.
No matter what seed the Tigers earn, no matter where the Tigers are sent in the tournament, hitting coach Tom Riginos knows they'll have to be able to beat pitchers like Sale and Harvey to do more than simply make an NCAA appearance.
Harvey and Sale combined to strike out 25 Clemson batters in back-to-back series-opening wins against the Tigers.
"You are going to have to beat those guys to go far into the postseason," Riginos said. "They all want that challenge, as coaches we all want that challenge. … (Georgia Tech's) Deck McGuire, we had him on the ropes. Harvey pitched real well, but we had a chance to beat all three of those guys.
"With Harvey, the last two years, he couldn't throw his breaking ball for strikes, so we wanted to get his pitch count up. Harvey was throwing 3-2 breaking balls for strikes; that's a real tough challenge. Against Sale we tried to be aggressive early in the count because he doesn't throw a lot of balls. … You have to scrap and put the ball in play."
The Tigers continue to have pitching issues.
After several promising starts, freshman Dominic Leone struggled in his outing Sunday.
Once thought to be the closer, David Haselden continued to allow runs out of the bullpen, picking up the loss Friday. Will Lamb has not immediately become the dominant end-game piece the team had hoped after moving him from the weekend rotation.
But there were positive developments, including Frederick's start Tuesday (5IP, 4H, 1ER, 2BB, 6K) and Tomas Cruz's four shutout innings on Sunday. The Tigers also scored 30 runs in the last three games of the series.
Said Clemson shortstop Brad Miller said of the confidence: "We have to take it in and run with it."
E--Alavarez, Miller, Nester, Pohl. DP--FGC 1, Clemson 3. LOB--FGC 9, Clemson 9. 2B--Parker 2, Nester. 3B--Miller, Pohl. HR--Roberson, Freeman. SH--Alvarez. SF--Chester. SB--Lamb, Hinson.
HBP--by Frederick (Wickens); by Kyle (Chester); by Crumbly (Pohl). BK--Nathanson. Time--2:53. Att: 4,056.
Reach Travis Sawchik at email@example.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.om/blogs/tiger_tracks.
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