When shortstop Logan Davidson and pitcher Mat Clark stepped off Clemson’s team bus at Murrells Inlet they expected it to be just another road trip to play Coastal Carolina.
A comfortable hotel, maybe a team meal or some pizza, and an 11 p.m. curfew.
What the Tigers experienced over two days in mid-May was much more than a routine road trip. Instead, they enjoyed go-Kart racing, miniature golf and a day at the beach.
Those two days might have saved Clemson’s baseball season.
Clemson (34-24) will face Illinois (36-19) in the opening game of the Oxford Regional Friday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised nationally at 4 p.m.
The Tigers had just dropped two of three games to North Carolina State and were on the verge of playing their way out of the NCAA Tournament when they arrived at Murrells Inlet that Sunday night. Clemson was 30-22 at the time with four games left in the regular-season — a road game against Coastal Carolina and a three-game home series with Wake Forest.
“We knew that last week was going to be important,” Davidson said. “We knew we had to play some of our best baseball or we might not make the tournament.”
The roller-coaster season, which had featured an eight-game losing streak in April, had taken its toll on the Tigers' psyche. Lee knew they needed a break.
The team left N.C. State and headed for Murrells Inlet, where it stayed in beach houses instead of a hotel.
“We just thought it would be a cool idea,” Lee said. “We didn’t want that typical road trip. We wanted the guys to have some fun and get away from the game and not think about baseball. We wanted to bring some joy to the season.”
The following morning, the team made its way to a go-kart track where players and coaches went after each other like seasoned NASCAR drivers.
“Rubbing is racing,” Lee said with a chuckle. “We just acted like a bunch of teenagers, ramming into each other, coaches included. It was awesome.”
Then there was some miniature golf and an afternoon of just relaxing on the beach.
“It was a blast,” said Clark, a sophomore from Hilton Head and one of the Tigers' top starting pitchers. “We got to take a day away from the game and have some fun.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games at the beach. Lee held an intense team meeting the night before the Tigers faced Coastal Carolina.
“It was the unbridled truth about where we were, so I laid it on the line,” Lee said. “What we did against Coastal and Wake Forest and in the ACC Tournament was going to determine if we were going to play in the postseason.”
The Tiger pummeled Coastal Carolina, 14-3, the following night and then took two of three games from Wake Forest. In the ACC Tournament, Clemson lost to Boston College, 7-5, in 11 innings, but beat Louisville, 7-1, behind Clark’s masterful pitching performance.
“I think those couple of days at the beach gave us some energy,” Lee said. “I think we have played some of our best baseball since that trip.”
This wasn’t a spur of the moment change in travel plans for the team. Brad Owens, the team's director of operations, had pitched to Lee the idea of getting beach houses before the season.
“I’d love to take credit for it, that I had some brilliant insight into the mental makeup of the team at that point in the season, but Brad had the idea a few months back,” Lee said. “We wanted to do something different to give the players a different experience. This wasn’t something that we did at the last minute, this had been the plan all along.”