Originally created 06/02/06

Tigers riding impressive hot streak

CLEMSON, S.C. - Clemson coach Jack Leggett chuckled when told his rival South Carolina skipper Ray Tanner said the Tigers were so hot right now, they could play in the American League East.

"That's a stretch," Leggett said. "It's nice that they think that, but I'm sure we're a long ways away from that."

Maybe. But the tear Clemson has been on the past month is enough to turn a few heads in the best major league clubhouses.

The Tigers (47-17) have won 19 of their past 20 games. They captured the Atlantic Coast Conference's regular-season and tournament titles, and they come into this weekend's NCAA regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium as the tournament's No. 1 seed.

Clemson faces North Carolina Asheville (28-33), surprise winners of the Big South tournament, today. Southern Conference regular-season champion Elon (44-16) takes on Mississippi State (35-21) to start regional play.

"They're doing what Jack's teams always do, they play well late when it means something," Elon coach Mike Kennedy said.

Clemson was expected to play well from the start.

In 2005, the young Tigers - they started freshmen at shortstop, second base and center field - reached the NCAA super regional, where they lost to Baylor in three games. That showing had them ranked No. 1 in some polls before this season began.

But a three-game sweep by Virginia in March and four consecutive losses in April, including two to midmajor schools Winthrop and Furman at home, left some questioning if the Tigers could live up to all those early expectations.

Then came their stretch run, which finished with series sweeps of Florida State and Wake Forest to clinch the ACC's best regular-season mark. The Tigers defeated Georgia Tech twice on the way to the ACC Tournament win and were rewarded with the tournament's overall No. 1 seed.

The Tigers have done it with a balanced combination of offense, defense and pitching. Outfielder Tyler Colvin has led the attack with a .360 average and a 20-game hitting streak. First baseman Andy D'Alessio has 20 homers and 75 RBI, both team highs.

Clemson is in the top 25 in Division I fielding percentage, while the pitching staff is fifth nationally with a 3.19 ERA.

Jason Berken, a junior, has gone 9-3 with a 2.76 ERA in his first season since reconstructive "Tommy John" surgery in 2004.

Stephen Faris (8-2, 2.24) and Josh Cribb (9-0, 2.84) give the Tigers a formidable starting staff. Daniel Moskos has had nine saves and 45 strikeouts in nearly 47 innings of work this season.

Not everything is rosy for Clemson. Senior outfielder Travis Storrer, who missed the ACC Tournament with a sprained foot, is out for the regional as well.

Leggett gave the players a couple of days off to celebrate and refocus after last week's ACC Tournament victory. He expects the same motivated team he's seen much of the season.

"The kids realize we have a lot more to accomplish this season if we want to feel good about it," Leggett said.


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