Recent hall of fame inductee Jack Leggett eager to lead Clemson in 2014
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson coach Jack Leggett doesn't expect his recent Hall of Fame induction to blunt his desire to win or ease his disappointment should the Tigers come up short.
Leggett became a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame earlier this month. On Saturday, he opened practice before his 21st season with the Tigers with the same goal as always -- to reach the College World Series.
''It's going to be exactly the same, trying to put together a team to get quality wins for our program,'' Leggett said. ''When we win, I'm happy. And I think they like making me happy.''
Leggett has been mostly happy the past two decades with 887 victories and six trips to Omaha at Clemson. In recent years, though, his clubs have gotten lapped by the championship program at South Carolina, which has won national titles in 2010 and 2011 and knocked the rival Tigers from the NCAA tournament in two of the past four seasons.
Last June, all the buzz was about the Clemson-South Carolina showdown ahead when the two teams were matched up in NCAA's Columbia Regional. Instead, the Tigers lost two straight to Big South champ Liberty and never faced the Gamecocks.
''Every team is going to lose its last game of the year unless you win a national championship, which is very tough to do,'' said Leggett, who'll turn 60 in March. ''It's always a motivating factor whether you lose in a regional, a super regional or in Omaha. It always stinks getting on the bus and starting over again.''
But while last year's lineup had seven players in their first-ever NCAA tournament games, this year's squad is filled with experience and depth.
The Tigers began workouts in 30-degree temperatures. For Leggett, though, it was good to get back to business after the past few weeks when the spotlight was focused on him instead of the players.
Leggett thinks the Tigers have worked hard in the offseason and look ready to take a major step forward.
One big piece of the puzzle most likely won't play until late April. Designated hitter Shane Kennedy is recovering from a torn knee ligament suffered in fall practice. Leggett said Kennedy, a second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference member, was progressing well and hoped to have him back this season.
One of Clemson's biggest issues last season was the critical hit that didn't come. The Tigers were among the back half of the ACC in most major offensive categories and were just ninth of 12 teams a year ago with a .276 batting average.
Tyler Slayton, who played left field last year, will move to center to replace Thomas Brittle.
Catcher Garrett Boulware, the team's leader with eight homers and 45 RBIs in 2013, said Clemson's experience from last year will help this season. ''It's not even that we really struggled last year, it was just timely hitting,'' he said. ''I don't think we'll have a problem with that this year. We'll be more mature and have a better approach.''
Leggett hopes his pitchers keep the same approach and focus they did a year ago. The Tigers won 40 games last year in a large part because of their deep rotation and strong bullpen. Most of those players from last year are back, led by Friday night starter Daniel Gossett.
Gossett, a junior, was 10-4 with 2.56 ERA last season. Behind him are Matthew Crownover, who was 7-3 with team-best 2.19 ERA as a freshman last year.
Behind them are three pitchers who saw significant action a year ago in Clate Schmidt, Zack Erwin and Brody Koerner.
Most important to Leggett, it's a group that blends well together - essential for a team seeking its first College World Series trip since 2010.
''I think we've got a really good team feeling about it,'' he said. ''We've just got keep everybody healthy and working toward our goals.''