Clemson Thankful for Early-Season Struggles

There is no question No. 6 Clemson got a lucky bounce when Virginia Tech’s All-ACC outfielder, Jack Hurley, misplayed and dropped a Jacob Jarrell popup in leftfield Wednesday night.

The miscue came with the Tigers down two runs and sitting on two outs with runners in scoring position in the top of the sixth inning. The result of Hurley’s mistake allowed two runners to cross home plate to tie the score.

From there Clemson went on to score five more runs in the sixth inning, including an RBI single from Cam Cannarella and a grand slam from Caden Grice.

Hurley’s blunder is just another example of how the Tigers jump on their opponent’s mistakes and take advantage of every opportunity they get. Some might say during their 13-game winning streak, that they just expect something is going to happen and when it does, they are ready to pounce.

However, Grice and his Clemson teammates do not see it that way.

“I think it comes down to toughness. We are a really tough team,” he said following No. 3 seed Clemson’s 14-5 win over No. 10 seed Virginia Tech Wednesday in Game 6 of the ACC Baseball Championship. “We believe that we are never out of a fight, and we just keep on grinding, pitch after pitch. We do not look ahead. We do not look behind us. We just keep going.”

The Tigers’ resilience has allowed them to go 24-4 since April 4.

Clemson (40-17, 20-10 ACC) concluded the regular season by winning their last seven ACC series, including consecutive sweeps of Louisville, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. It also had a sweep of NC State during the run.

Over the last several weeks, members of the media and the fans have scratched their heads and wondered what happened. What made the Tigers go from a team that was 16-14 and 2-8 in the ACC, to become the hottest team in college baseball that owns the nation’s longest win streak?

“I can’t pinpoint one specific moment when we just started playing well. I think we were playing well a lot and we were just coming up short,” Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said. “We had a few guys out, but everybody has a few guys out all the time.

“I think the players should get all the credit because they are the ones that stayed positive. It would have been very easy for them to become discouraged when we were 16-14 and 2-8 in the league and wondering if all this training they have been doing and these classrooms sessions and everything are really worth it. But they stuck with it. They stayed positive. The coaches stayed positive, and we started to catch a few breaks. We started to get a few guys healthy. We started to figure out a few more roles and before you know it, we just started to build momentum for ourselves.”

That momentum has carried into a possible national seed for the Tigers in next week’s NCAA Tournament. A crazy realization considering where the team was six weeks ago, when they were staring at a season going nowhere fast.

However, they are grateful for those bad experiences and how those experiences shaped them into the team they have become.

“Had we not got dragged through the mud early like Caden said, we would not be as tough as we are now,” Bakich said. “There is a resilience and (an exercise) of the mind that takes place when we have all those setbacks and have that much adversity. It just builds you up. It shapes the identity of this team and where we are now.

“I think we are very thankful that we did have that rough start because of the team it has created today.”

But Clemson is not looking at the NCAA Tournament or any of the impressive numbers it has put up in the last six weeks of the season. The Tigers are just focused on Boston College and trying to advance to the ACC Semifinals.

“The next game is our most important game of the season,” Bakich said. “These guys have done a really good job of staying in the moment. A tournament like this, just play in the tournament and take everything one at a time as best they can.” Clemson will play the Eagles in Game 10 of the ACC Championships on Friday. First pitch is set for 11 a.m. at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.

Photo by Jaylynn Nash / ACC Communications

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