Miami at Clemson
What: No. 15 Miami at No. 22 Clemson
When: Friday, 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Records: Miami 29-13, 16-5 ACC; Clemson 25-16, 12-8
CLEMSON - The way Daniel Gossett and Matthew Crownover have mowed down opponents lately, five weeks seems like far too long a wait for the games to mean everything.
"We just need to get to regionals. Regionals can't get here any faster," Crownover said. "I feel very confident in the guys we've got, and we'll get the job done."
The two constants that give the Tigers hope they won't endure a fourth straight year without a trip to Omaha for the College World Series go by "Goose" and "Crown," and they hold the most important position on the diamond.
Clemson (25-16, 12-8 ACC) is an outside shot to host regionals right now, but when that time comes for double elimination play, Gossett and Crownover carry more pressure than anyone else in uniform (save perhaps for head coach Jack Leggett from restless fans.)
"I love it. Absolutely love it. You have to," Gossett said. "You can't go out and pitch scared. You can't pitch to not lose. You've got to pitch to dominate. As a pitching staff, we're starting to understand that."
When "Goose" or "Crown" start, Clemson has an impressive 13-6 record, including a sparkling 10-3 mark with a 1.82 ERA against ACC foes.
"Both of those guys battle, they work ahead in the count, they don't get themselves in trouble and they're great competitors," Leggett said.
With all other starters, the Tigers are a middling 12-10 overall, including 2-5 in the ACC.
No. 22 Clemson, entering a pivotal three-game weekend set with red-hot No. 15 Miami (29-13, 16-5; 16-1 since March 24) at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, knows it can score enough, though the bats have been inconsistent. The Tigers' .287 batting average leads the ACC and their 251 runs trail only No. 4 Florida State.
Which is why there's a certain comfort level when Gossett (5-0, 1.80 ERA) or Crownover (6-3, 2.28) take the ball. Gossett, since getting lit up by South Carolina on Feb. 28, has allowed seven runs in 43 1/3 innings; Crownover's yielded seven runs in his last four starts, averaging eight innings per outing and tossing 23 strikeouts against six walks.
"Goose has been good, really, since (the ACC opener vs.) Virginia Tech," Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli said. "He got himself ironed out, really threw some quality pitches, that I thought, all right, he's in his form. And he hasn't looked back.
"A little bit different story with Matthew," Pepicelli said, switching gears. "He made some pretty substantial mechanical changes that clicked with him. He stopped taking his hands over his head. He went back to just using his two-seamer a little bit more. The first week he did it was against N.C. State (April 5) and he was clearly very good. He's got some momentum going after that; I really like the way he's throwing right now."
As he rounds into form with a month before the postseason, Gossett goes back to mental preparation starting in February.
"You treat every pitch like it's the last pitch to win the national championship in Omaha," Gossett said. "As soon as you start the opening series against whoever we played (Eastern Michigan), you think, 'that pitch is in the ACC Championship. That pitch is in Omaha.' If you can take every pitch to that level and mentally train yourself to be at that level every pitch, that's how you succeed."
Gossett's maintained his status as the staff ace; Crownover's been solid for two years since undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2012 at the tail end of his high school career. Crownover said he threw at "about 70 percent" in 2013, when he went 7-3, and he's back to full strength now.
"Same as Goose, I feel like I can get anybody out anytime, no matter what pitch I throw to any batter," Crownover said. "Last year I didn't have the fastball velocity I wanted to; I had to rely on command. This year I've gotten my sinker, but I'm able to throw it past somebody. That's nice to have, again."
No. 3 weekend starter Jake Long had been touched up for just two runs in 15 innings over his past three ACC starts before a poor fifth inning at Pittsburgh. Zack Erwin and Clate Schmidt also have been reasonably effective while plugging into multiple roles, starting and relief, ACC and non-conference.
"I think we're built for the postseason, honestly, just because we don't have six games in a week where we're trying to find guys to throw," catcher Garrett Boulware said.
"When we get into regionals and we only have three or four games, you know Goose is going to go 7 or 8, you know Crown's going to go 7 or 8 - that's when we're going to start doing our damage."
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