As the players and assistant coaches made their way through the post-game handshake line, Monte Lee and Matt Heath stood behind home plate and lingered a little longer than normal.
Lee, in his second season as Clemson’s head coach, and Heath, the head coach at College of Charleston, had worked together for five seasons and remain close friends.
But on Tuesday night, the two old friends were in different dugouts competing against each for the first time in the Lowcountry.
Clemson smashed four home runs, including two from Chris Williams and a towering solo shot by Seth Beer as the No. 6 Tigers defeated College of Charleston, 8-4, Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of 1,638 at Patriots Point.
Clemson (17-6) has won 11 of their last 13 games, while the Cougars (8-13) lost for the sixth straight time and have dropped nine of the last 10.
As a player and a coach for the Cougars, Lee spent the better part of a decade at College of Charleston. This was Lee’s first trip back to his alma mater as a head coach and the former All-Southern Conference outfielder couldn't help but get nostalgic about his return to the Lowcountry.
“This is my first time coming back to College of Charleston as a head coach,” Lee said. “I owe a lot to the College of Charleston. College of Charleston is the only school that gave me an opportunity to play college baseball. They played me every day and I got a chance to get drafted because of this school. At 31-years-old, I got a chance to be a head coach.
“A lot of my career has to do with College of Charleston. So, I love this place, I’ll always love this place and it’ll always be special to me. But I’m a Clemson Tiger now and I love being in the purple and orange.”
Heath served as Lee’s pitching coach for five seasons, helping lead the Cougars to two NCAA regionals and one Super Regional appearance.
“Monte’s one of my best friends, but once the game started there were no emotions for me,” Heath said. “I wanted to beat him as badly as he wanted to beat me.”
Heath couldn’t help but poke a little fun at his old boss after the game was over.
“I was given him a hard time about his purple shirts, I told him, I think my wife has some purple shirts, I think they’re the exact same color,” Heath said with a chuckle.
Williams belted a towering home run to lead off the top of the second inning, then College of Charleston’s Logan McRae responded with a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning.
Clemson’s Chase Pinder scored on a wild pitch in the third inning, then the Tigers scored three runs in the fourth inning on home runs by Williams and Logan Davidson. It was Williams’ fifth homer of the season, all in the last six games, and Davidson’s third long ball of 2017.
“I told our guys we were not going to pitch around anyone in their lineup,” Heath said. “We wanted to challenge their hitters and we went after them. We’ve got a lot of young arms out there and the biggest difference between high school and college is that you have to keep the ball in the lower part of the plate. The wind was blowing out and they made us pay for our mistakes.”
The Cougars scored two runs in the fifth inning before Weston Jackson hit a two-out, pinch-hit, run-scoring single in the sixth inning. College of Charleston scored a run in the seventh inning, but Clemson responded again in the eighth inning when Robert Jolly scored on a wild pitch with two outs. Beer then blasted a long solo homer, his sixth long ball of the year, in the ninth inning.
“It was really good to see Chris Williams get a couple of good at bats,” Lee said. “He’s swinging the bat like a number four hitter.”
Tiger starter Tyler Jackson (3-1) earned the win, as he allowed seven hits, three runs and three walks with four strikeouts in 5.0 innings pitched. Cougar starter Max McKinley (0-3) suffered the loss, as he yielded five runs on six hits in 3.0 innings pitched.
“I thought we competed, I’m really proud of the way we battled for nine innings,” Heath said. “Clemson has a really good team and I thought we gave them three runs.”