NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Most baseball programs from coast to coast and in between look at Clemson's pedigree with admiration. That's what 39 NCAA tournament appearances and 12 College World Series berths accomplish.
Which is why four consecutive years - a complete recruiting cycle, and the entire careers of six Tigers seniors - without a trip to Omaha, Neb., sounded impossible in the summer of 2010. It seems aghast now.
As a result, much as Hall of Fame head coach Jack Leggett would love to comfortably say he has all the answers, that just isn't the case after another bitter end.
Following Xavier's 6-4 win-or-go-home triumph Saturday afternoon at Hawkins Field, the Tigers (36-25) slink back to Clemson, splintering once again in the postseason and culminating 2014 with more issues than solutions for the future.
"It's frustrating. This is not how I pictured this season at all," junior captain Garrett Boulware said. "Especially with the team we've had, and we had pretty much everyone back, I was expecting a lot more out of us, including myself. It was very disappointing."
Clemson has lost 10 of its last 15 NCAA tournament games since its third game of the 2010 College World Series. The five wins have come against No. 3 and 4 seeds: Coastal Carolina (three), Sacred Heart and Saint Louis, all before the super regional round.
Second-year athletic director Dan Radakovich has promised to meet with Leggett at season's end to discuss the direction of the program.
Asked specifically by The Post and Courier on May 21 if Leggett has the administration's full backing, Radakovich said, "That's a hard thing to say. Everybody has their support. I'd love to say I'm with our coaches win, lose or tie.
"We have to maintain that upward trajectory. . We need to make sure that we're doing what we can, administratively, to give our baseball program the opportunity to be successful."
Accordingly, after Saturday's loss, the ninth-winningest baseball coach in Division I history was asked about his job security.
"Am I fully confident that I'll be back coaching next year?" Leggett said, before a brief pause. "I'd like to tell you that's a ridiculous question. OK? I've been here for 21 years and I got a track record that's pretty good. So I'm sure we'll sit down and talk about it."
Pressed if he believes he's got the support of the Clemson athletic department, Leggett responded, "I would hope so. Yeah, I would hope so."
A six-time head coach in the College World Series, Leggett has compiled a 1,300-739-1 career record in 35 seasons at Vermont, Western Carolina and Clemson, including a 923-449-1 mark in 21 years leading the Tigers.
During his tenure at Georgia Tech, Radakovich made two major coaching moves. He replaced Yellow Jackets football coach Chan Gailey with Paul Johnson and men's basketball coach Paul Hewitt with Brian Gregory. At Clemson, he replaced women's basketball coach Itoro Coleman with Audra Smith.
For now, Leggett chews on the ill-desired distinction of his first senior class (second baseman Steve Wilkerson, first basemen Jon McGibbon and Shane Kennedy, closer Matt Campbell, pinch-hitter Mike Dunster and outfielder Joe Costigan) not visiting the College World Series in Omaha.
After beating then-No. 6 Miami in the ACC tournament May 22 and squeezing into the NCAA field, Clemson closed with a three-game losing streak.
"I felt like we just kept underachieving," junior ace pitcher Daniel Gossett said. "We were always really close. I felt like we were always right on the brink of breaking loose, and it just never happened."
Even having Gossett (7-2, 1.93 ERA) on the hill, against a Xavier team with the No. 97 RPI in the country, couldn't stake Clemson to the first of four victories it would have needed this weekend to survive for a super-regional run.
Gossett was accurate (71 strikes, 28 balls) but in rare mediocre form, allowing three runs in six innings before his services were chased by a 1-hour, 48-minute lightning delay in the seventh.
Reliever Drew Moyer coughed up a three-spot in the bottom of the seventh, providing cushion for the Musketeers (30-28) to remain in regional contention Sunday against either host Vanderbilt or Oregon.
Clemson led 2-1 after shortstop Jay Baum and right fielder Steven Duggar chipped in two-out, run-scoring hits in the fourth and fifth frames. But Xavier responded in the bottom of the fifth with RBIs from right fielder Mitch Elliott and catcher Daniel Rizzie, and Rizzie's 2-run single in the seventh extended the Musketeers' lead.
Wilkerson slugged a long 2-run blast to right in the eighth, but the senior's team-leading sixth home run of the year wasn't enough.
Clemson was in possession of the nation's fourth-longest streak of at least one NCAA tournament victory in each of its past 26 appearances, dating to 1987 and spanning 12 different host states. That streak was snapped, bowing out with defeats to Oregon and Xavier and losses charged to the Tigers' dual aces, Gossett and Matthew Crownover.
"You talk about parity in basketball and parity in football, I think it's now trickled down to college baseball," Radakovich said May 21. "We have to get better. That's not an excuse. That's just the reality of college baseball right now."
Potentially, underclassmen such as Gossett, Crownover or Boulware could decide to leave Clemson for the minor leagues. The 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft runs Thursday through Saturday.
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