CLEMSON, S.C. — Erik Bakich’s first season as head coach of the Clemson baseball program might not be going as smoothly as he anticipated going into it.
Over the first half of his inaugural season at the helm, the Tigers have dealt with a multitude of issues, ranging from injuries to key pitchers and inconsistency from some of the arms that are healthy.
Despite going toe-to-toe with second-ranked Wake Forest over the weekend, the Tigers were still swept at home for the second time this season. Two of those losses came in heartbreaking fashion as the Deacons rallied in the final two innings to notch a come-from-behind win on Friday, and then held off a furious ninth inning comeback attempt by Clemson on Saturday in the series finale, holding on for a one run victory.
Asked if there were any positives to take away from playing such a talented team so close, a visibly disappointed Bakich admitted that it was tough, but at the same time, the head coach insists no one inside of that dugout has stopped believing.
“I mean it’s hard to find the positives, you know,” Bakich said. “I mean, there are. No question, there’s positives.”
“I’ve never questioned the physical talent. I still don’t question the physical talent. I still think we have a physically talented team. I think we’re just still finding our identity. We’re still finding our way. We’re still making improvements. That neck up stuff. But nobody has lost belief.”
Despite the slow start, Clemson still has a respectable RPI (44), in part due to the fact they have faced one of the toughest schedules in the country. Bakich still fully believes his team is capable of getting hot and locking up a spot in the postseason, and that they will indeed turn the corner, and soon.
“I mean, I 100-percent believe that with every fiber in my body that we are going to get hot and go on a run. No doubt,” Bakich said when asked if he thought the Tigers could still make a regional.
Clemson has already seen more than its fair share of close losses this season, many coming in the final innings. Nine of the teams 13 losses have been by three runs or less, including a heartbreaking extra inning loss on the road at Georgia Tech.
And while Bakich has been overwhelmingly thrilled with his team’s effort, he also knows they have to be better at doing the little things. The fundamentals. Base running, untimely and costly fielding errors, or even a pitcher coming out of the pen and getting the team out of a jam, are all things the head coach has mentioned regarding areas that need improving.
However, Bakich still believes. So do the players in the dugout. They are all confident that if they keep digging and keep pushing forward, the results will come. And when things do start to turn in the Tigers’ favor, a lot of it will be due to the adversity they have already experienced.
“At some point, the pendulum, it has to swing,” Bakich said. “Instead of talking about ‘man, those guys fight to the very end and they kept it close against the number two team in the country,’ it’ll be ‘they don’t beat themselves and they execute in big spots and they’ll find a way to beat you and they just won a series over a ranked team.’ Instead of the other way. So it is close. It is right there.”
“That fight, that grit, that toughness, the character, those are going to be the things that’s going to be the reason why we’re going to get over the hump. If we didn’t have that, I maybe wouldn’t feel as confident that we are.”
And when that time comes, Bakich says watch out.
“I sit here, and it’s not coach-speak, 100-percent, honest to God, say this team is going to turn the corner,” he said. “And when we do, it’ll be because of their toughness and because of their grit. And it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
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