Challenges extend beyond the lines for Clemson in Columbia

Mark Crammer/AP Clemson head baseball coach Jack Leggett and the Tigers face Coastal Carolina today (noon, ESPNU) in the NCAA regionals in Columbia.

CLEMSON — The Clemson baseball team knows what it is walking into this weekend, perhaps the most hostile environment it will have ever faced in NCAA tournament play.

While there is no guarantee Clemson will face rival and host South Carolina in a game in the Columbia Regional, Clemson star Richie Shaffer expects Clemson partisans to be outnumbered nearly 100-to-1 at Carolina Stadium.

“A lot of their guys really don’t like us and they don’t like me a whole lot in particular,” Shaffer said of Carolina Stadium patrons. “I try to tune (the heckling) out. It’s pretty hostile. But it’s fun, it’s intense, it’s one of the most unique environments you’ll ever be a part of in baseball, except for maybe Red Sox-Yankees.”

Clemson (33-26) opens play against No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina (41-17) at noon today (ESPNU).

What will it take for No. 2 seed Clemson, which is 9-9 on the road and 3-3 at neutral sites, to win a regional at Carolina Stadium? Clemson coach Jack Leggett says toughness and clutch hitting is key. Shaffer said composure is paramount.

And research on homefield advantage in sports suggests the Tigers could have to overcome borderline calls going against them.

Author L. Jon Wertheim and economist Tobias Moskowitz studied the hidden influences in sports in their book “Scorecasting.” They were curious to learn what was the root of home-field advantage.

Their research found the most difficult part of playing on the road in baseball is not the travel or the crowd’s influence on players, rather the advantage from umpiring bias favoring the home team when making borderline calls.

The authors studied QuesTec data in Major League Baseball. The measurement technology locates and tracks pitches to judge home-plate umpires’ performance and has been installed at various major league parks since 2001.

They found over the course of a major league season, because of biased calls, 516 more strikeouts are called on away teams than home teams, and 195 more walks were awarded to the home team by the home plate umpire’s bias.

And louder the crowd and the more crucial the game situation, the more biased umpires became, whether subconsciously or consciously, according to the book’s research.

They found those values added up to 7.3 runs per season for each home team.

Leggett is more concerned about getting his team’s offense than any crowd factor. Clemson has scored two runs or fewer in five of its last six games.

“We’ve got to get a couple guys hot,” Leggett said. “It becomes contagious. It’s all about confidence factor, your focus and your ability to be tough in tough situations. You have to be tough to be a really good tournament player.”

Leggett actually likes several aspects about playing a regional on his rivals’ home turf.

“The last 10 days we’ve been traveling,” Leggett said. “Logistically, (the proximity to Clemson) is a good thing for us. We’re familiar with what’s going on down there and what we are going to see. … Coming down here, the pressure’s not on us. I look at this as a good environment for us.”

Shaffer believes there can be advantages in the disadvantaged situation.

“Sometimes you play better when everyone is against you,” Shaffer said. “There’s not many times you get a chance to go to your rival’s field and play in a regional. … It’s something that’s definitely a challenge for us.”

Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett announced will start Kevin Pohle (6-4, 3.66 ERA) today against Coastal Carolina.Leggett did not announce starting pitching assignments for the rest of the regional, and they figure to be matchup dependent upon who Clemson faces in the winners’ or losers’ bracket Saturday.