Tigers to take on Tide, former pitching coach

Clemson pitcher Casey Harman will start Game 1 of the super regional against Alabama today.

CLEMSON -- What kind of reception is former Clemson pitching coach Kyle Bunn expecting during the Clemson Super Regional?

The first-year Alabama pitching coach joked with reporters this week about hoping he doesn't have to make a single mound visit during the best-of-3 series at Clemson, which begins today at 6 p.m.

After helping the Tigers to a national top-10 staff ERA last season, Bunn left for Alabama, which offered the former Citadel ace and Georgetown native the same position but with a substantial $100,000 contract, a 33 percent raise.

The timing was not great for Clemson coach Jack Leggett. When asked about Bunn this week, Leggett and the Tigers have not exactly seemed ready to throw a reunion party.

"Everybody's gotta do what they gotta do," Leggett said. "He's done a nice job for them. He's got their pitchers in shape. They've been pitching well."

Bunn said he and Leggett had a good conversation prior to Alabama's practice Friday and said it didn't feel "weird" returning to Doug Kingsmore Stadium, where he has attended camps and games since he was 11.

"All decisions are personal as well as business," Bunn said. "I came out and gave him a hug and told him how well they've been playing."

How much Clemson has been affected by Bunn's departure, if it all, is difficult to determine.

The Tigers' staff ERA (4.82) is more than a full run higher than last season (3.68), but the Clemson staff was hit with a number of departures in addition to Bunn.

The Tigers lost left-handed starter Chris Dwyer, who was a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Royals. Clemson also lost hard-throwing reliever Graham Stoneburner, who was one of the team's trusted bullpen arms, and closer Matt Vaughn.

And it's not like the Clemson staff is struggling, just two wins from a College World Series appearance.

Under first-year Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli, Casey Harman threw his first career complete game at Auburn last Saturday, following Scott Weismann's gem. The staff's patient approach with talented redshirt freshman Kevin Brady also appears to be paying dividends.

Likewise, Alabama's staff is also throwing well.

Alabama has a 4.79 ERA, down from last year's 5.13 mark.

Alabama's Game 1 starter, Jimmy Nelson, has two complete-game wins in his last three starts, and the Crimson Tide advanced to the SEC title game in addition to winning back-to-back road games in Atlanta to advance to the super regional.

Bunn and Pepicelli use polar-opposite approaches.

Bunn plays the drill-sergeant role -- his pitchers are often seen running sprints after games and after practice. The Alabama staff was running sprints in Friday's 91-degree heat.

Pepicelli is more of a baseball horse whisperer, trying to attack issues with one-on-one sessions.

"It's two completely different methodologies," said Harman, Clemson's Game 1 starter. "They both teach opposite things. One is really into mental toughness, having us run hard. Pep is into us as individuals, talking with us and kind of working with us."

The weekend marks not only a battle for a College World Series appearance, but a war of pitching ideas.

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