Tigers hitters plagued by inconsistency

Clemson's Garrett Boulware scores the winning run as Boston College catcher Stephen Sauter drops the ball in Saturday's 10-9 win in 13 innings.

To those who ride the roller coaster rooting for Clemson baseball, they've been driven batty when it's run-scoring time.

In the big picture, believe it or not, Clemson does exactly what it's supposed to do when there's a runner on second, a runner on third, or both.

Clemson's team batting average this entire year is .277. With runners in scoring position? .277.

Clemson's team batting average in ACC games is .261. With runners in scoring position? .261.

Of course, timing is everything.

It's elementary to pinpoint one metric and label it the culprit for why a team overachieves or disappoints. Obviously, when one team collects more hits than the other, or commits fewer errors, wins and losses tend to take care of themselves in the long run.

However, this must be known about Clemson's prowess in the big moments:

In Clemson's 34 wins, the Tigers bat .330 with runners in scoring position.

In Clemson's 22 losses, the Tigers bat .164 with runners in scoring position - less than half the clip in those victories.

When Clemson is clutch, such as days like Saturday's 8-run rally, smiles and optimism flow like a gust of fresh air through the first-base dugout at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

When Clemson puts RISP, but the bats RIP, the Tigers drive their fans to wonder about the direction of the program - which, as recent postseason results dictate, hasn't been the right one.

If you're haunted by the last half-decade's worth of springs in Clemson baseball, now would be a good time to flip to the funnies.

On June 22, 2010 at Rosenblatt Stadium, the Tigers topped Oklahoma, 6-4, a day after defeating Arizona State - a promising start to the College World Series in Omaha.

Since then, Clemson is 5-8 in NCAA games, and it's been a steady backslide. The Tigers were excused from Omaha by losing back-to-back rivalry games with South Carolina, then lost their host regional in 2011 (capped by UConn 14, Clemson 1), then lost a pair of 1-run decisions to the Gamecocks in Columbia in 2012, then couldn't even set up a date with redemption last spring when Liberty twice beat Clemson.

In the second of those Liberty losses, Clemson had 14 official at-bats with a man in scoring position. Garrett Boulware's fourth-inning single scoring Steven Duggar from second was the only hit.

"I think if you had to pinpoint one thing during the course of (2013), that was probably our Achilles' heel," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said after the game. "We just had a little trouble coming up with the big hit with two outs or men on base."

Leggett went on to essentially call out his heart-of-the-order stars - Boulware, Duggar, Steve Wilkerson, Jay Baum - for not producing timely RBIs when opportunity arrives.

"We get them in scoring position," Boulware said that day, "and for whatever reason, we just can't get the big hit."

So of course, it was something to watch during the 2014 season, especially when during a midseason swoon a defiant Boulware called this "the best lineup I've ever been a part of."

The Tigers hit .370 with runners in scoring position during a 6-1 start. Then they were 7-for-36 (.194) in getting swept by South Carolina. Then .397 the next seven games. Then .197 the next six. Up and down, up and down they went.

"This game's frustrating, man," Duggar said. "One day you can feel like the greatest athlete in the world; the next day, you can just feel like you're not there mentally."

As Clemson opens the ACC tournament Wednesday against Duke, the Tigers don't know their postseason future. Even a crazy comeback Saturday, beating Boston College 10-9 after trailing 9-2 at the seventh-inning stretch, didn't totally drench the doubt.

"We're not safe. We're not safe right now," Duggar said. "We've got to continue to play good baseball. We're a good team. If everybody believes in that, and everybody shows up ready to play, we're going to be a team that's going to do good things the rest of the year."

The way the Tigers won Saturday was a major confidence boost. Down to their last out and trailing by four, Boulware, Baum, Andrew Cox and Jon McGibbon all reached base - all hitting with a man in scoring position, by the way - capped by McGibbon's eight-pitch at-bat, culminating in his bases-clearing double to tie the game, which Clemson eventually sealed in the 13th inning.

"Let's do exactly what we just did right there," Boulware said. "You can't do that any better. That's really what we need: the right hit at the right time, and that's what's been killing us all year."

Can one game out of 56, one thrill temporarily thrusting ambience to a season gone stale, be the catalyst to change?

"I hope so," Leggett said. "A game like this, with this kind of excitement, can get you to a good spot.

"Two-out RBIs, rallies, that Clemson magical thing we've always had, we haven't had many of those in a while."