COLUMBIA -- Clemson coach Jack Leggett couldn't be any prouder of his players if they had won the College World Series instead of falling in Omaha to rival South Carolina.
And Leggett won't let anyone smear the Tigers high accomplishments simply because of a disappointing end.
"It's one of those things that's tough to take sometimes," Leggett said Wednesday. But "in this state, we have to keep it in perspective."
For Leggett, that means remembering that Clemson overcame its youth and an awful midseason stretch to play its best baseball when it counted most to reach the CWS for the first time in four years. Yes, Leggett understands too well, the Tigers were in the driver's seat at Rosenblatt Stadium, needing only one win over the Gamecocks to reach the CWS' final series. But Clemson lost two tight games to end the season.
The Gamecocks went on to take the national championship over UCLA, something likely to stick in the craw of some Clemson fans for a long, long time. But Leggett said he hasn't heard that talk, only praise from fans glad for what their team achieved.
"It's a national tournament and two teams in South Carolina are among the last three playing in the country," Leggett said. "The whole state should feel good about the baseball we play in this state. I'm not going to let anybody diminish what we accomplished, what came from this season."
That's plenty, Leggett said.
Clemson had questions on the mound, where it entered the season without much experience and a new pitching coach in Dan Pepicelli. Another issue was Kyle Parker, who hoped to rediscover his freshman power stroke after a grueling first season as Tiger quarterback.
The Tigers fell to South Carolina 5-1 and 4-3 in Omaha and the Gamecocks continued on to their first CWS title. It was hard for anyone in the Palmetto State, including the Tigers, to escape the victory celebrations as South Carolina returned home.
"We have respect" for South Carolina, Leggett said. "They respect us and the coaches respect each other. We were out there battling as tough as we can and they hit it just right. They have to commended for that."
No one, Leggett insisted, is hanging their heads about the final outcome.
"It's a special season, and coming to Omaha made it more special," said Mike Freeman, Clemson's senior second baseman. "It was tough to have to go away early, but it's a special season nonetheless."
Leggett's already planning how to make 2011 even better. He'll have to replace Freeman, outfielder Wilson Boyd and Parker, a junior who hit 20 homers and was a first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies. Three other players -- Harman, Schaus and third baseman John Hinson -- were taken in the draft's later rounds and Leggett thinks there's a strong chance all will return.
"We got some kids who tasted it," Leggett said.
He's certain they'll want an even bigger bite next year.