In the span of two horrific innings, Clemson was bludgeoned, battered and beaten by Southwest Missouri State.
The Tigers surrendered 16 runs between the fifth and sixth innings in the opening contest of the NCAA Regional in Fayetteville, Ark. on May 28. The Bears pummeled Clemson 23-5 and put the Tigers on the brink of elimination.
Two months of scraping their way out of the ACC cellar and positioning would be wiped away with another Tiger loss.
Instead, Clemson responded with four victories in two days and advanced to the Super Regional against No. 2 Texas A&M (50-15) beginning today in College Station, Texas at 8 p.m.
A young, healthy and confident team faces the Aggies in the best of three series. The No. 17 Tigers' roster is sprinkled with four seniors and developing team chemistry took time.
Early season hardships forged a resiliency in these Tigers. Their composure was exemplified on May 30 when they beat the Bears twice for the Regional title.
"We've shown we can rebound from big losses," said freshman third baseman Khalil Greene "There was no bigger loss than that. If we can come back from something like that, we can do anything."
Clemson (41-25) plodded through the first half of its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule with a 3-5 record before a dramatic mid-season turnaround secured an invitation to post-season play. The Tigers finished the regular season third in the conference before falling to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament championship game.
Greene is second on the team with a .358 batting average, 19 doubles and 69 RBI. Despite Clemson's shaky start, Greene said the true measure of the Tigers' season is their late-season run.
"Regardless of how you start off, it's how you finish that counts," Greene said. "We're starting to peak when it's most needed. What's the use of reeling off 50 wins if you are home now?"
In six years as coach, Jack Leggett has taken Clemson to the NCAA tournament each season and to a pair of College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Leggett said the team began salvaging its season during a three-game series against Miami at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C.
"We believed we could beat anyone during that series," Leggett said. "Then we went to Florida State and decided to start playing better ball."
A 2-4 record against a couple of Top 5 ranked teams rejuvenated the Tigers. Clemson is 20-9 since returning from Tallahassee and is vying for its fourth trip to Omaha this decade.
"It's a whole different team," Leggett said. "I always felt we could win. This has been a long trip to Omaha."
Ryan Mottl (4-7, 5.58 ERA) will be on the mound for the Tigers while the Aggies will start Casey Fossum (10-6, 3.39 ERA). The winner of the Clemson-Texas A&M series will meet the Auburn-Florida State victor in Omaha June 11.
Jimmy DeButts can be reached at (706) 823-3221.
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