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Clemson softball enters ACC Tournament as top seed


The Clemson softball team kicks off the ACC Tournament on May 12. Clemson Athletics/Provided. 

CLEMSON — On May 13, the Clemson softball team will open its first ACC Tournament as the No. 1 seed.

Coach John Rittman thought his team would have some success in its first full season. But even Rittman conceded he was blown away by the team's romp through the regular season.

The Tigers (40-5, 29-5 ACC) play No. 9-seed Georgia Tech in the tournament's second round at Ulmer Stadium in Louisville, Ky. First pitch is set for 11 a.m.

"It's very surreal to think back (to) when we started the program and we're in the meetings to design and build the stadium, to be out on the recruiting trail looking for our first team," Rittman said. "We knew we had a chance to be pretty good. We had no idea that we would do this, this year."

That's a comment sentiment around the league.

The Tigers' inaugural campaign actually came in 2020, but was cut short because of COVID-19. Clemson finished 19-8, but questions remained if such success could be sustained over a full season.

Rittman's team has surpassed expectations — and then some. 

"A lot of us have talked about it and just kept saying, like 'pinch me'," redshirt junior Cammy Pereira said. "We don't even feel like this is real yet."

The key to the Tigers' success is Valerie Cagle, who on May 11 became the first player in ACC history to earn the conference's Player and Freshman of the Year awards. Rittman was named the conference's Coach of the year. 

Cagle thrived on the mound and at the plate, finishing the regular season second in the ACC in ERA (1.15) third in batting average (.420) and tied for second in homers (14). Earlier in the season, she threw a pair of no-hitters within a seven-game stretch.

"If you've never seen her play in person," Rittman said, "it's quite the show."

Now it's up to Cagle and the rest to take the show on the road. If Clemson beats Georgia Tech, it'll play in the semifinals the next day. With one more win, Rittman's team would have the chance to play for the ACC title May 15 at noon. 

Cagle said the Tigers aren't looking too far ahead, though. When they reach Louisville, they are going to savor the moment — and whatever might come next.

"We're not supposed to be here," Cagle said. "We're not expected to do any of this, so there's that much less pressure on us. So we can kind of enjoy it as it comes."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.

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