No matter what the season has to throw at them, the Tigers have usually proven that they are prepared for anything that comes their way. But for the first time since 2001, Clemson has lost two of its three games in the NCAA regional round.
For the Tigers, that inconsistency gives some grounds for hope going forward. But for now, the defending College World Series champions are a far cry from their standard of perfection.
The Tigers lost to Illinois State on Wednesday, 12-7, after blowing a 7-0 lead and falling behind by 10-runs. After that game, coach Mike Martin released a statement saying he and his staff felt the team had played better the last two days, especially from an offensive standpoint.
“It was just one of those games where you have so many hiccups that can happen,” he said. “When you start pressing and trying to do too much, things just start to unravel.”
In their next game, against Mississippi State, the Tigers were unable to break through, even though they led 7-1 after four innings. In an even closer contest, in which the score stood at 9-9 in the seventh inning, Mississippi State scored twice and then held on for a 10-9 win.
Then the Tigers slipped up again, this time taking the field against Santa Clara. As Martin spoke to reporters after the game, it seemed as if there were some sleepless nights on the horizon for his team.
“As a coach, at this time of year, you always worry about these games at a regional stage,” he said. “We’ve got to have more about us than we had the last two days. I’m still confident in these guys.”
One of the key reasons behind the team’s success this season has been its bullpen. With an above-average group of pitchers that has been able to keep opponents off balance, this Clemson pitching staff has turned in a number of dominant performances, including walk-off wins over South Carolina and Auburn.
Those victories might have been especially gratifying after the Tigers had seen the talented trio of Jordan Montgomery, Jacob Lindgren and Mike Crosetti leave the team before the postseason. Montgomery, the Tigers’ ace, had been selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the MLB draft; Lindgren, a Pittsburgh Pirates prospect, chose to turn pro; and Crosetti, the team’s lead-off hitter, opted to forgo his senior season for an opportunity to play professional baseball.
Even if the final scores of those three games had all been exactly the same, the performances of the rest of the bullpen to push the team to the College World Series would still be impressive.
With five starters entering Thursday, it remains to be seen how Clemson will handle the two-straight losses and what the fallout will be for those who had hoped for a super regional. But the Tigers have a wealth of talent to build around.