Now's the time for Clemson hitters to produce in NCAA regional

Right fielder Steven Duggar is one of five Clemson starters hitting better than .295 this season. (AP Photo/The Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

The head coach takes offense to questions about Clemson's offense.

"Hits are tough to come by," Jack Leggett said Monday. "Pitching has been exceptionally good. In the ACC, it might be the best pitching I've seen in a long time.

"There's a lot of teams who have had trouble scoring runs, you know, throughout the country. Just check it out."

Consider it checked: Clemson's not half-bad, in the big scheme. In its own regional, all four teams (Clemson, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Xavier) each average between 5.5 and 5.6 runs per game, so they're tightly bunched - and all ranking in the upper third of NCAA scoring.

Three of the four teams hit consistently as well. Xavier bats .283, Vanderbilt bats .278 and Clemson's .276 on the year - again, all figures rank in the top 100 out of 295 Division I squads.

"There's nobody throwing the ball up there in the mid-80s saying, go hit it," Leggett said. "There's a lot going on, so you have to make some good adjustments."

However, Oregon's team batting average of .259 ranks 214th in the country, the fourth-lowest clip among the 64 NCAA qualifiers. The three tourney teams hitting below .259 - Youngstown State, Bucknell and Bethune-Cookman - are No. 4 seeds from small conferences.

Other than a few random categories in sacrifice bunts (Oregon's 81 are third in the nation) hit by pitch (94, good for 14th) and triples (20, 16th), the Tigers' Friday opponent doesn't rank particularly high in any hitting department. Maybe Clemson starter Matthew Crownover (8-5, 2.26 ERA) views that as a good sign.

It'd be a better sign if his own team provided him a better backbone on defense - Crownover has allowed 13 unearned runs this year - or more consistent hitting.

"We've scored some runs when we've had to. But we've had a couple instances where the pitching got the better of us," Leggett said. "We're a momentum-driven team, as most teams are. We're going to have some games where it's not always there. Everybody's just got to click at the right time."

On paper, the Tigers' offense trumps the Ducks. Five Clemson starters hit north of .295 (Tyler Krieger .330, Steve Wilkerson .318, Garrett Boulware .303, Jay Baum .298, Steven Duggar .296) while Oregon corner infielder Michael Tolman (.315) is the only Duck above that ledger.

Still, going against Oregon ace Tommy Thorpe (10-4, 2.20), the Tigers know they're in for a tough test if they want to start off in the winner's bracket. Thorpe is a lefty, and Clemson is just 15-12 against southpaw starters.

"I think the difference from the beginning of the year until now," Duggar said, "is we're not just hoping we can finish the game. We actually believe that we can (overcome) any amount of deficit."

Late-season triumphs against Boston College (a 10-9 extra-innings win after trailing 9-2) and Miami (upsetting the ACC Tournament's top seed 3-2 on Wilkerson's ninth-inning walkoff hit) buoy Duggar's confidence.

"I still go back to last year and look at the North Carolina win up (in Chapel Hill); that changed our whole season," Duggar said. "We came off that and we go win 11 games in a row. Just a different team."

But that 2013 outfit, which hit .276 all season, tailed off in the Columbia regional, batting just .229 and bowing out with two losses to Liberty.

"If two or three of your key guys get cold a little bit, a little tentative, it moves on to the next guy as well," Leggett said. "So we've got to be aggressive and attack and have a lot of confidence if we want to win the tournament."

There aren't any special lessons Leggett has learned from the past three regionals, which have resulted in zero super regional berths for the Tigers.

"Pitch, play defense, get some big hits. That's the key to any regional," Leggett said, matter-of-factly. "Just got to get some big hits. Big hits and momentum on offense is a huge part of winning any tournament. If you go into the tournament and you hit, then everything else starts to click pretty good."

The Tigers are 5-10 against ranked opponents, and Vanderbilt is No. 20 in the final Baseball America poll while Oregon is ranked by other publications.

"We feel like we can play with anybody in the country," Duggar said. "We don't feel like we're down until the final out's made."