CLEMSON — How will Clemson’s 2023 baseball season be remembered?
Will it be about a team that had little to no expectations in the first year of a new coach capturing an ACC championship?
“Big picture, knowing that this team will be coming back, be celebrated, get their rings, they’ll always be ACC champions,” Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said. “They will always have that.”
Will it be about turning a 17-14 overall, 2-8 ACC start into a 17-game win streak that instilled a belief in what Bakich can accomplish with this proud program?
“They achieved one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of Clemson baseball to see the tale of two seasons,” Bakich said. “Their legacy is that forever and ever, every time a Clemson baseball team hits a rough patch, has some adversity, goes through a skid, you’re going to hear about Team 126.”
Of course, some will choose to remember “Team 126” in the Clemson history books as the one that gained a national seed in the NCAA tournament only to bow out in just three games of its own home regional.
“There’s so much, so many positive things that these guys did to just return Clemson baseball to a level that was competitive, that we feel like we should be at,” Bakich said. “Did we reach our ultimate goal? No. Omaha is still the standard of this program. Always has been, and always will be. So we fell short.”
It’s something the Tigers have done in their last 10 NCAA Regional appearances: They haven’t made it out of a regional or made it to the College World Series since 2010.
This year, they were on the wrong side of an epic moment. Clemson played one of the more incredible, highly-competitive games in Doug Kingsmore Stadium history on Saturday night against Tennessee.
It was one for the ages. It was high-level baseball mixed with a rocking atmosphere. But it drained the team emotionally to the degree that it struggled in a 3-2 loss to Charlotte 12 hours later that eliminated the Tigers from the regional.
“Any time you’re not the last team standing, you’re going to have these scars that don’t heal,” Bakich said. “Those go back a long time because you just look at what could you have done…everybody’s going to be Monday morning quarterback.
“You just got to live with it and move on. This program will be better for it. I know it sucks right now because it’s an opportunity missed.”
Bakich made no excuses. He said his team just didn’t get it done in the biggest moments of the season. It had Tennessee on the ropes and needed just one out to go 2-0 in the regional, but the Vols hit a three-run homer to take a lead in the ninth. Clemson tied it up but couldn’t convert in the 10th inning with the bases loaded and nobody out. They went on to lose 6-5 in 14 innings.
Sunday, the Tigers had nothing left in the tank and couldn’t score a run off Charlotte’s bullpen.
This weekend was a microcosm of what really was a season that had a little bit of everything.
Clemson had two All-Americans in Caden Grice and Billy Amick develop into college baseball stars. Cam Cannarella was the best freshman in the league.
This team won the conference title for the first time since 2016, and even though it had a rough ACC start, it finished with the second-best regular-season record in the league.
“A lot of people had to wait to see it to believe that Clemson baseball was back,” Bakich said. “These guys believed it first. I’m forever grateful to them. I’m very proud that they will be called champions for the rest of their lives.”
A new tone was definitely set, and while Bakich was feeling the sting of seeing it end, there’s an enormous foundation of success set that will shape future Tigers teams for years to come.
“This program here, it’s going to turn into a dynasty here soon,” senior pitcher Jackson Lindley said after his final collegiate game. “These coaches know what they’re doing. They provide us with the right tools and the mindset. I’m excited to see what the future of this Clemson Tigers team holds.”
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