CLEMSON— A week has now passed since the Clemson Tiger baseball team was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
That loss marked the ninth straight season that the Tiger baseball team had not managed to make it out of the regional round of the NCAA Tournament and a fourth straight time under head coach Monte Lee.
Those kind of streaks are not taken to well by the Clemson fanbase, some of whom suggested, during Sunday’s 9-2 beating, that the Tigers change the traditional stitching on the back of their hats from “Omaha” to “Super Regionals.”
So, what is the key for the Tigers to end the streak in 2020? Simple: Be the best team that weekend.
“It’s the team that plays the best that wins the regional,” Lee said. “We have come up short. I have been fortunate enough (at the College of Charleston) to coach a team that won a regional and we were the team that played the best. I can’t say we were the best team in the regional, but we were the team that played the best. This year was no exception to the last two years before that.”
It was the lack of being able to advance out the regionals rounds that ultimately cost former head coach Jack Leggett his job at Clemson.
Leggett led the Tigers to 955 victories, including six College World Series appearances, however it was his record in the regional round over the final two years that proved to be his dimise.
In Leggett’s final five seasons, the Tigers went 5-10 in the NCAA Tournament, that included back-to-back sweeps in the regional round.
While nobody is calling for Lee’s job, he understands the expectations that the job of head coach entails and is not making any excuses for his team’s play in the regional round.
“I thought our defense was fairly solid all year,” Lee said. “But bottom line is, teams that are good, that play for a long time, they can pitch with runners on base and hit with runners on base, and we needed to be better in both of those areas.’
Lee took a great deal of his postgame press conference to encourage the media in attendance to not over look the accomplishments of this years team saying, “I’m proud of our players, I really am. I'm proud of our guys. We're in this thing together, and I think they would tell you the same thing. Going through this second half of the year, where we had the tough stretch, it was a, we thing. We were in this thing together. Our older players, they stayed positive, they showed up every day and worked hard. They played as hard as they could, even today. It was a tough game today, but our guys were pulling for each other. We competed as hard as we could.
“We just ran into a better team, and they played better than we did today. But all in all, I'm proud that we got into the NCAA Tournament, and got the opportunity to be here. Certainly, our guys fought their way through it, to put us in this position. I just wish we could've played a little better while we were here and made a little bit more of a run.
So a disappointing way to end the year, but we'll learn from it. We'll move forward from it, we'll try to get better from it.
But while the accomplishments of the Tigers are deserving of a mention, so is the fact that it has now been nine years since the Tigers have reached the Super Regional round. And with instate rival the South Carolina Gamecocks capturing the season series for the first time since Lee took over, his seat, while not yet hot, is certainly warming up.