CLEMSON — On the first day of practice back in January, veteran players Valerie Cagle and McKenzie Clark were clear what Clemson’s goal was for the 2023 softball season – make it to Oklahoma City, the home of the softball College World Series.
But the road to Oklahoma City will not be an easy one for the No. 16 seed Tigers. First, they have to get through one of the toughest NCAA Regionals in the country at McWhorter Stadium in Clemson this weekend. If they do that, it will likely be top-ranked Oklahoma waiting for them in the Super Regional round.
“If you would have told me at twelve-years-old that I would have the opportunity to play at Oklahoma, that little kid would have done a backflip or something,” Clark said Thursday as Clemson gets set to host UNC Greensboro in Game 1 of the Clemson Regional Friday at 3:30 p.m. “How can you not be excited for a dream to come true.”
For Clark and the Tigers’ dream to come true, they must first knock off UNC Greensboro, Auburn and/or Cal State Fullerton to advance.
“We have some very tough opponents,” Clemson head coach John Rittman said. “UNC G to open up. SoCon Champs. They are a very good team. We had them earlier in the year in (the Clemson Invitational). They are a very scrappy and never quit team and well coached.
“Of course, Auburn and Fullerton are two of the toughest two and three seeds in the country that are here. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
Clemson (46-9) cannot afford to overlook anyone if it wants to advance past the Clemson Regional. After starting the season 37-1, the Tigers went just 9-8 in the last 17 games.
The decline is mostly due to Clemson’s lack of success at the plate. In last week’s ACC Tournament, the Tigers managed just four hits in eight innings to squeak out a 2-1 win over North Carolina in the quarterfinals.
The semifinals were even worse, as Duke freshman Cassidy Curd threw a no hitter in the Blue Devils’ 2-0 victory.
Since the Duke loss, the Tigers have used the last six days to evaluate themselves and try to get back to that feeling they had when they were rolling through the competition.
“At this part of the season you are just trying to get comfortable, gain that confidence back,” outfielder Ally Miklesh said. “I think that was a huge part of this week’s practices. Building that confidence and building that trust in one another again.”
If the Tigers want to build that confidence and get back to playing like they were earlier in the season, they have to do a better job offensively.
“We have to do a better job of getting runners on and having timely hits,” Rittman said. “I think with our individual approaches, we have to be aggressive early in the counts. We have to compete better. Hitting is a lot about timing and pitch selection, and in the last month we have not made great decisions at the plate.
“It starts with our timing, our pitch selection, making good decisions and I am very confident in our abilities. I know our team has worked really hard to come out and be better offensively this weekend.”
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