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With key players missing, Clemson baseball not worried about expectations of new season

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CLEMSON — There's no need for the Clemson baseball team to talk about expectations, coach Monte Lee said.

Tigers players and coaches know what the outside anticipates. They're on social media. They walk through campus. They live in the college baseball world. Expectations, they understand, are high. So what?

"We're going to go out there and maximize each day and compete every pitch," Lee said.

What happens next is out of Clemson's control.

Last season, the Tigers' campaign ended in the Oxford NCAA Regional. Clemson hopes for a deeper postseason run in 2020, but for now the program isn't looking past this weekend, when a formidable Liberty team comes to Doug Kingsmore Stadium for a season-opening three-game set starting Friday.

"It's going to be a heck of a challenge. There's no doubt about it," Lee said. "I don't know if we've played a team opening weekend in my five years that has these types of credentials. You know, a 43-win team that returns their whole weekend rotation."

Indeed, the Flames — the defending Atlantic Sun Conference champion — come to Clemson aiming to build on a season that ended in the Chapel Hill Regional.

Lee will turn to left-hander Sam Weatherly to start Friday's opener. The junior compiled a 2-0 record with a 3.38 ERA over 21 relief appearances last season, and he said he's ready to take the next step as a starter.

Weatherly said he spent the offseason working on maintaining a consistent delivery, watching film and journaling his progress. 

"Our sports psychologist here has preached (journaling) for my three years that I've been here," Weatherly said. "It took me time to buy in. And I bought into it. ... Now I have something to go back to and reflect on."

The Tigers will be without Michael Green, the outfielder who was anticipated to be one of the team's top hitters this season. Lee announced Jan. 24 that Green had been dismissed from the team. Green last season hit .307 with eight doubles, three homers and 14 RBIs. Lee did not give a reason for Green's dismissal, but it's clear his absence will have an impact on the Tigers' lineup.

Clemson also will be without catcher Jonathan French, a highly touted incoming freshman who is out for at least four weeks with a leg injury. 

Shortstop Sam Hall still believes in Clemson's offense. The team had lost some big names the previous season, he said, and still had success.  

"You just find a way," he said Tuesday. "And play."

Such is the ethos of the program. As Hall spoke from inside the dugout at Kingsmore, the sun peeked through the clouds. It had been a gloomy day — a gloomy past few days — in the Upstate, but finally the tarp was off; a couple of team staffers raked the infield dirt.

A new season, and all the expectations and pressures that come with it, was imminent. 

CLEMSON BASEBALL

2019 RECORD: 35-26 (15-15 ACC)

COACH: Monte Lee, 168-83 in 4 seasons

TOP PLAYERS: RHP Davis Sharpe (7-4, 3.20 ERA, 84 Ks); LHP Mat Clark (9-3, 3.21 ERA, 60 Ks)

TOP NEWCOMERS: C Jonathan French (5-10, 220); OF Dylan Brewer (6-2, 170); RHP Mack Anglin (6-4, 210)

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 graduate.

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