Back in late June, the Clemson baseball team walked off the field after losing its second game in a row to rival South Carolina, knocking it out of the College World Series. That night was the end of a great season for the Tigers, one that saw them advance all the way to the quarterfinals of the College World Series. This season the team will try to keep the momentum going and bring back the trophy from Omaha.
Clemson enters the 2011 season ranked No. 4 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll and is projected to win the ACC, which will be, like always, very tough this year. Five ACC teams are ranked in the preseason top 20, with Clemson being the highest.
“I’m really excited about the upcoming season,” said head coach Jack Leggett. “We have a strong group of veterans coming back. We lost some good players from last year, but at the same time, I think we’ll be able to try to send the reinforcements in there and see what they are capable of doing.”
The major question mark for this year’s team will be the same as it was last season: pitching. The pitching staff is extremely deep, but the loss of Friday starter Casey Harman and relief man Tomas Cruz will be sizable holes to fill. Junior right-hander Scott Weismann will lead the rotation in 2011. Weismann came on strong in the 2010 campaign, going 9-2 in 18 starts.
Sophomore right-hander Dominic Leone will probably begin the season as the Saturday starter. Leone had a solid freshman season and emerged late in the year as a dependable starting pitcher.
The third spot in the weekend rotation could be filled by any number of guys. Sophomore Scotty Firth, junior David Haselden, sophomore Kevin Brady and graduate Justin Sarratt have all started games in the past and are capable of filling the role of the third starter.
Senior right-hander Alex Frederick was the main reliever for the 2010 squad, and he will try to fill the same role this season. Frederick finished the season with a 7-2 record and a team-high four saves. Jonathan Meyer, a sophomore righty, was a solid reliever at the beginning of last season. The Tigers will be counting for more out of him in the 2011 campaign.
Sophomore left-hander Joseph Moorefield only made six appearances in 2010, but has the ability to be a factor out of the bullpen for the Tigers in 2011. An X-factor on the staff for the Tigers in 2011 could be senior lefty Addison Johnson. Johnson is also an outfielder who will see playing time this season.
The Tigers infield returns three starters from a season ago. Junior John Hinson returns at third base after an outstanding season, batting .351 with 17 home runs, 75 RBI and 25 stolen bases after starting the season as a backup.
Junior Brad Miller returns at shortstop for the 2011 campaign. Miller batted a team high .357 with eight home runs, 49 RBI and a .458 on-base percentage.
Sophomore Richie Schaffer will hold down first base this season after starting 36 games there last season. Schaffer had a solid freshman season, batting .323 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs.
Junior Jason Stolz will be taking over at second base after the graduation of Mike Freeman. Stolz saw time last season at third and shortstop.
The catcher for the Tigers will be sophomore Spencer Kieboom. Kieboom came on strong late in the season and made several key plays in the NCAA Tournament for Clemson. Kieboom possesses a great arm that will help keep opponents’ running games in check.
Junior Phil Pohl will also see some time behind the plate this season. Pohl has shown a knack for getting hits with runners on base, which could be huge for the Tigers this season.
Clemson returns four players who have experience in the outfield on this year’s team. Senior left fielder Jeff Schaus is a two-time All-ACC player and a preseason second-team All-American. He hit .320 with 15 home runs and 87 RBI last season.
Senior Chris Epps will patrol right field this season. Epps has a career on-base percentage of .402 and has an excellent eye at the plate. He has also started in center field and could see time there as well this season for the Tigers.
Junior Will Lamb will compete for the starting spot in center field this season with Johnson. Lamb batted .289 with four home runs, 36 RBI and 14 stolen bases in 2010. Lamb could also see time on the mound and at first base this season.
The Tigers have several incoming freshman that could play vital roles this season. Jon McGibbon and Steve Wilkerson could both see time in the infield during the season. McGibbon has a lot of power and could make an impact at first base or possibly in the outfield. Wilkerson was a highly-touted switch-hitting recruit that could play valuable innings in the infield for Clemson.
Dominic Attanasio is an outfielder that could become an immediate factor because of his speed. Another freshman outfielder is Joe Costigan. Costigan is also a candidate to provide innings in the outfield in 2011.
“I think we’ll bring the freshmen along slowly,” Leggett said. “Some of them will be working their way into the lineup or onto the mound. But at the same time, a lot of the players coming back have the experience that it takes to get back to Omaha and play within this conference. They’ll still get a lot of opportunities to show what they can do in the beginning.”
The 2011 Tigers have a tall task ahead of them if they want to duplicate the success of last season, but this squad is more than capable. Clemson will kick off this season with a weekend series beginning on Friday Feb. 19 against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The game times are Friday at 4 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. Come out and support the Clemson Tiger baseball team as they begin their long journey to get back to the College World Series.
“We all had a taste of Omaha last year, and when you get a taste of it, you want more,” Leggett said. “We’d love to go back and put a bid in to see who can win the whole thing in the new stadium. But we have some work to do, and we have to continue to get better every day. We’re taking it one day at a time and not getting too far ahead of ourselves.” The Tigers have one goal in mind for 2011, and that’s to get back to Omaha and bring home a championship.