Postgame speech may be spark for slumping Tigers

Clemson pitcher Casey Harman will start against North Carolina today in the first game of a three-game ACC series.

CLEMSON -- After being swept at Georgia Tech last weekend, Jack Leggett decided to address his team on the somber bus ride back to Clemson. Leggett thought his squad might be losing its grip on the season, or perhaps its grip had become too tight, losing 12 of 18 games.

"I said we have got to have amnesia about the middle third of the season," Clemson's coach said. "Remember how we played in the beginning? … get ourselves back to that point. It made me feel better. OK, let's get this thing behind us."

Pitching coach Dan Pepicelli agreed the Tigers had tightened up, and at the worst of times -- during the middle of conference play. When the Tigers (24-14, 10-8 ACC) returned to action with a 22-4 win against USC Upstate on Wednesday, Pepicelli felt the talk had had its desired effect. "You could just sense that they were ready to relax," Pepicelli said.

The staff hopes the relaxed mentality carries over to a critical home weekend series against North Carolina, beginning at 6:30 p.m. today.

Both teams enter desperate for wins.

After four straight trips to the College World Series, the Tar Heels (23-16, 6-12) have fallen out of SEBaseball.com's April 20 regional projection. UNC was swept at Miami last weekend.

Clemson is not yet in danger of missing the NCAA tournament, but the Tigers have dropped from hosting status to a No. 2 seed at the Myrtle Beach Regional, in SEBaseball's projection.

Clemson fell out of Baseball America's top 25 following series losses against Duke and Georgia Tech.

"I think it will take a lot for them to miss regionals, because they have such a strong RPI (13) and a great series win against South Carolina," Baseball America college writer Aaron Fitt told The Post and Courier in an e-mail. "Plus (Clemson) had a very good sweep against Virginia Tech. So even if they lose that series this weekend, I think they're fine. But certainly their hosting ambitions have taken a big hit, and they need to get hot in a hurry to have a shot to host."

To get back into hosting contention, the Tigers have made several tweaks.

Freshman Dominic Leone (2-0, 3.42 ERA, 24 strikeouts/eight walks in 26 innings) will make his first weekend start Sunday, after pitching effectively in several midweek appearances. Casey Harman will start today, followed by Scott Weisman on Saturday.

Will Lamb moves from the weekend rotation to the bullpen in hopes of bolstering the relief corps. Tomas Cruz will take over closing duties.

While the Tar Heels are not as powerful as they were in previous seasons -- former Tar Heels Dustin Ackely and Alex White were each top-15 overall picks last June -- Tar Heels' Friday starter Matt Harvey has an elite arm (60 strikeouts in 56 innings), and the Tar Heels can still produce runs, averaging 7.8 per game.

"We're just trying to put a complete game together," Clemson shortstop Brad Miller said. "(Against UNC) it's just a battle."

Parker sets NCAA mark

One Tigers player who has performed at a high level consistently this season for Clemson is Kyle Parker.

Parker hit his 15th home run Wednesday. Parker is the first Division I athlete to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 15 homers in a school year. Parker told football coach Dabo Swinney three months ago his goal is to have a "20-20" year.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.