Sunday, June 10, 2012

Baseball in Review

The baseball season started and ended the same way – with a loss.

The first one didn’t hurt all that much, but the last one did.

The first one launched the season, with ideas of grandeur and Omaha.

The last one brought reality and finality.

And with the season concluded, the time has come to look back, see what went right and what failed. See what we did well and how we could’ve improved. And at the end, we’ll give out some awards and offer a few words of advice.

Clemson opened the 2012 season with a consensus Top 25 national ranking, the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Division, two returning All-ACC performers, the majority of the pitching rotation, and a hunger to advance farther than last year.

But Clemson never found a rhythm and was a bit inconsistent. They finished 3rd in the Atlantic Division, a little above 0.500, and bowed out of both the ACC Tournament and the Columbia, SC Regional without any hardware.

And when a team fails to meet preseason expectations, it’s hard to deem the season a success. There were successful moments (FSU & Miami), but as a whole, I think most Tiger fans are left with somewhat of a disappointing feeling.

But, anytime you play 60 games against top-notch competition, there are going to positive moments.

At the beginning of the season, all three outfield positions needed to be replaced, with few known answers. One solid answer: Thomas Brittle.

The transfer from the College of Charleston was fantastic in center and solid at the plate. Brad Felder snapped up the right field spot and had some huge hits.

Another positive: Clemson in big games. A few times this year, Clemson had their backs against the wall. Each time, they came out swinging. Series wings against Miami, Georgia Tech, & Florida State were indicators this team was capable of being competitive against any team in the country as did close series and regional losses to USC.

The numbers show the team having decent pitching and hitting statistics. And they were, but they’re a little misleading. Clemson was never able to put everything together all for an elongated period. It seemed that nights when the pitching was solid, the bats never showed up. And on nights when the bats came to play, the pitching didn’t.

The result: 6-11 record in 1-run games (0-3 in post-season play). This is best seen on Fridays when Clemson went just 7-7 and helps to explain why ace Kevin Brady had a fantastic era (2.54), but went just 1-3 with 8 no-decisions.

The Tigers were close – only a few runs away (whether it be scoring a more or giving up less) from having a solid season, hosting a regional, and still playing. They went 26-8 when scoring 5 or more runs and 21-8 when giving up less than that. The problem: Clemson played 59 games, which means they scored 5 or more runs just over half the time and gave up 5 or less right half the time.

The other negative is perception. This team lost some games this year it either never should have, such as Maine, Western Carolina, Presbyterian, and College of Charleston (first ever loss to C of C). Additionally, this team was swept in three ACC series and lost 4 out of 5 against USC, with the final two ending their season.

Considering the season’s expectations, along with Clemson’s annual goal of getting to Omaha, it’s hard to deem the season a success. Most people weren’t thinking National Title, but were at least hoping to exceed last year’s squad.

The Tigers equaled last year by losing in the regional, but unlike last year, this team wasn’t poised to advance through the Regional and head to the Supers. This team, and the fans, seemed resigned to the fact that making the tournament was as far as the team could advance.

Is there any one play or game that would’ve changed the direction of this team? Not sure. Maybe the first USC game from Charleston. But this team felt more like a Bowden football team than a Leggett baseball team. They never seemed to be able to build on any momentum and were pretty inconsistent, both of which are atypical of Leggett teams.

Unfortunately, next year may be a step back as graduation and the draft take a toll. The majority of offensive production will be gone (Shaffer, Pohl, Brittle, Kieboom, Felder, Stolz) as well as two weekend starters (Brady & Leone).

Clemson will need to find some bats – and find some in a hurry. Also, Kieboom has been a stalwart behind the plate and those will be big shoes to fill.

The good news is the young pitchers really stepped up. Gossett looked fantastic toward the end of the year and Pohle kept getting better and better, earning a spot in the weekend rotation.

So while this year was not what we hoped or expected, it wasn’t a failure either. College baseball continues to get more and more competitive, so making the tournament is always an accomplishment. But at the same time, just making the tournament is not the litmus test for this program, Omaha is. And anytime you don’t achieve that goal, you feel unfulfilled.

And that’s how the majority of the fans feel. And that’s not a bad thing.

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