Clemson baseball seeks and finds answers in season-opening win
CLEMSON — The Tigers entered Friday’s season opener as searchers.
Daniel Gossett entered seeking a changeup, a third pitch that would allow the right-handed sophomore to neutralize left-handed batters, and perhaps elevate him to ace status. Clemson entered Doug Kingsmore Stadium in search of power after losing players who combined for 86 percent of the team’s home runs last season.
In a 2-0 win against William & Mary on Friday, Clemson sought and found encouraging indicators on both fronts.
Gossett looked much like the pitcher Clemson fans last saw leaving with a lead against South Carolina on June 2 in the NCAA tournament, only better: he had a changeup and it was missing bats.
Gossett recorded seven swings and misses with his changeup, which was thrown 78-80 mph and featured late fading action. It confounded William & Mary’s left-handed hitters, and complemented his 89-91 mph fastball, which he commanded well, throwing 60 of 76 pitches for strikes.
He did not allow a run over 62/3 innings, allowing four hits, one walk and no runs while adding six strikeouts.
“Last year, I could count on one hand the amount times I threw it,” Gossett said of the changeup. “This year, the first game we threw it 15 or 20 times. To know I have another pitch in my repertoire, it adds confidence. My changeup was on today. It felt really good.”
Clemson’s chief concern entering the season was its lack of power. Clemson lost players who combined for 38 of its 44 home runs last season, including star third baseman Richie Shaffer.
Transfer Shane Kennedy, an All-American at Sante Fe (Fla.) College, looked a lot like Shaffer 2.0 on Friday, hitting in the middle of the lineup and smashing a Brett Koehler fastball into the left-field bleachers for a two-run home run in the eighth, the game’s only scoring.
Former Clemson player Brad Miller was a high school teammate of Kennedy’s and suggested Kennedy transfer to Clemson. What he didn’t tell Kennedy is just how big the park plays.
“The park plays humungous. Coach (Jack) Leggett says all the time ‘Small ball, small ball, small ball’ and it’s not just because of the bats and the balls, our place is a graveyard. It’s hard to get one out of here,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes you’ll get lucky and run into one. I ran into one and got lucky.”
Leggett does not want Kennedy to try to be another Shaffer. He simply wants him to employ a line-drive swing.
“I want to see him swing the bat flat,” Leggett said. “He was a little uphill his first two or three times at bat and probably trying to do too much. I just said ‘hit the ball flat, hit the ball with some backspin.’ And he hit it.”
Matt Campbell came on to get Clemson out of a ninth-inning jam and record his first save, Leggett said he’ll begin the season as Clemson’s closer … Clemson defensive tackle/first baseman D.J. Reader was in uniform and has apparently done enough to earn a roster spot.