CLEMSON — It's possible Jack Leggett has learned as much about himself this season as he has his baseball team.
With his previous 14 Clemson baseball squads — all of them more accomplished than this one — Leggett was prone to blowing his top at the sight of the slightest bump in the road.
This season, the bumps have been replaced with an obstruction as large and imposing as the Blue Ridge Mountains that loom north of Clemson. And Leggett has learned the virtue of patience as his young team tries to fight through a most difficult ride.
"You try to be very patient and keep their confidence going, not blowing up and getting frustrated," said Leggett, 54. "It's been a challenge coaching-wise, what to say to them in different situations. It's easy to talk to teams when you're winning, but it's difficult when you're not doing well and not winning."
This year, the wins have been as sparse as they've been in quite some time at a place that's distinguished for baseball excellence. At 25-23-1 overall, the Tigers are in danger of finishing with fewer than 30 wins for the first time since 1973.
At 10-16-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, they are assured of finishing with a losing ACC record for the first time since 1972.
And most important, they are flirting seriously with missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986.
Clemson closes its conference slate with a three-game series at Georgia Tech that begins tonight at 7, and the Tigers know they need every win they can get after suffering a home sweep last weekend at the hands of Florida State.
"It's obvious we've got to go down there and win some ballgames," Leggett said. "We're backed into a corner, and we've got to fight to get out."
With seven games left in the regular season, the Tigers are fighting desperately to prolong their 21-year streak of NCAA appearances — the third-longest streak in college baseball history.
On Tuesday, they'll play host to College of Charleston in what looks like this season's last game at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Next weekend, they'll travel to Central Florida.
The game against the Cougars will be big because both teams are considered on the fringe of NCAA at-large consideration.
But the most pressing issue is the present, and largely because Clemson is still hoping to be a presence in the ACC Tournament. The top eight finishers go to Jacksonville, Fla., and the Tigers are clinging to seventh.
Problem is, the sweep at the hands of the Seminoles shrunk Clemson's margin for error with Duke (8-14-1 ACC) and Wake Forest (8-15) close behind.
The Blue Devils will visit the Demon Deacons this weekend. Next week, Wake Forest is at Boston College and Duke is at Virginia Tech. The Eagles (24-24, 8-19) are 11th in the standings, the Hokies (20-27, 4-20) last.
In other words, Clemson could easily find itself outside the top eight after everything wraps up May 17.
Making matters more urgent, the Tigers have lost 12 of their last 15 games at Georgia Tech's Russ Chandler Stadium dating to their last series victory there in 1996.
The Yellow Jackets (34-14, 12-12) are coming off Wednesday's 11-1 victory at No. 8 Georgia. They also took two of three from No. 24 Coastal Carolina last weekend.
It's more than the typical bump in the road, but Leggett is determined to show more than the typical brand of patience.
"We're doing everything we can to make sure everybody's focus is on playing better baseball, and keeping the confidence level up," he said.
Leggett said he had yet to decide on Sunday's starting pitcher. Trey Delk started in place of normal starter Ryan Hinson last week in the third game against Florida State. Tonight's starter will be junior right-hander D.J. Mitchell (5-3, 3.17 ERA); Saturday's will be redshirt freshman Graham Stoneburner (5-3, 4.52).