CLEMSON - Although Clemson's captain won't accept a dugout feeling lifeless, that might be the right adjective to describe the majority state of the club, even on its own field.
Stuck "in a rut" with seven losses in its last nine home games, No. 22 Clemson's faint hopes of hosting NCAA regional action continue to melt away after this weekend's three-game sweep by No. 15 Miami at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
"Absolutely, we need to start winning," said junior Garrett Boulware, whose own struggles on the weekend (1 for 13) amplified the three losses. "Before we put ourselves in an even worse spot in the postseason, it's going to be an uphill battle wherever we go. Right now, it's not even about hosting; it's about putting ourselves in at least a decent regional."
Clemson (25-19, 12-11 ACC) received solid pitching performances from Matthew Crownover and Daniel Gossett on Friday and Saturday nights, but lost those outings, 3-2 and 5-2. It wasn't as competitive in Sunday's matinee, a 10-2 defeat that left the Tigers gasping for solutions on how to turn their fortunes around following their third straight ACC series defeat on campus.
Miami (32-13, 19-5) has won 19 of 20 games since March 24.
"They just outplayed us all series long. That's all there was to it," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "They're a hot team. We ran into a buzzsaw."
This was the second time Clemson has been swept this year (vs. South Carolina, Feb. 28-March 2); Miami is the first visitor to Doug Kingsmore Stadium to take all three since North Carolina swept the Tigers March 9-11, 2012. It's Miami's second sweep of the Tigers in series history, and first ever in Clemson.
Boulware, the Tigers' top hitter, failed to reach base in the series until an eighth-inning single Sunday.
"Today, I started pressing so I could get more hits," Boulware said, "and it kind of backfired on me."
The first two innings exemplified Clemson's troubles with the bats. The Tigers twice had runners on second and third base with one out, but Boulware fanned in the opening frame, slamming his bat after the first of his three strikeouts on the day, and leadoff hitter Tyler Slaton did the same in the second inning - another missed opportunity against Miami starter Bryan Radziewski (4-2), who quickly found his groove.
"We get the runners in the right position," Leggett said. "(Steven) Duggar and Eli White both got bunts down, got men on second and third, had the right guys up, and we just didn't get the right things done."
Boulware could hardly hide his disgust afterward, though he recalled a similar swoon late in the 2013 regular season before the Tigers caught a hot streak entering the postseason with nine straight wins.
"I'm just hoping we're doing it now and we're about to get hot," Boulware said. "But yeah, we just need someone to break the ice. I hope it's me; I hope it's anyone.
"We've shown flashes that we can hit - this is the best lineup I've ever been a part of. We're just in a rut. I don't know how else to explain it, but I'm hoping and praying something's going to start clicking here soon."
No Clemson runner reached second base from the third through the eighth innings Sunday, even though the lineup was set down in order just once. Spanning the weekend, the Tigers were 3-for-23 hitting with a man in scoring position.
"They pitched really well this weekend, and we made some really bad decisions at the plate," Boulware said. "That's really what it was."
Meanwhile, Clemson used seven pitchers. Starter Jake Long (2-3) was lifted in the fourth inning, charged with four runs (three earned) on seven hits. The Tigers' staff yielded 16 hits, matching their second-highest tally of the spring.
The Tigers' fielders committed multiple errors twice this series, increasing their total to 15 such games this season. But for the most part, to Leggett, it all came back to the continued lack of clutch hitting.
"Everything's contagious in this game. Momentum shifts really quickly," Leggett said. "When our lineup's going good, it's contagious; when it's not going so good, it spreads from one guy to the other. Unfortunately, we're in a little bit of a bad place here."