June 16, 2010

CWS Previews

Arizona St. | Clemson | Florida | Florida St. | Oklahoma | South Carolina | TCU | UCLA

By John Clayton
Special to NCAA.com

This is the reason they're here.

Some, such as freshman first baseman Richie Shaffer, who was taken in the 25th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, put their big-league dreams on hold for a chance to play in a College World Series.

Others, such as freshman pitcher and Connecticut native Dominic Leone, have traveled far from home to play for coach Jack Leggett at Clemson with Omaha on their minds, hoping to help deliver Clemson to its 12th College World Series, and the school's sixth under Leggett.

"Coming from a small town in Connecticut, I never thought I'd be playing in front of thousands of people, especially here at Clemson, which has such a great tradition and program," said Leone. "I came into the fall with the mentality that I needed to work hard and prove myself. I've kept that mentality all season long. It's really been a dream come true."

Leone's stellar 5 2/3 innings of work on the mound played a large role in last Monday's 8-6 Super Regional elimination-game victory over Alabama. He gave up three hits and one unearned run to the Crimson Tide and left with a 6-1 lead.

After an uneven regular season, which featured a seven-game losing skid in mid-April, the Tigers seemed to gain momentum after rallying to defeat Auburn in the Regional and then winning two straight to eliminate Alabama.

"I couldn't be more proud of our team," said Leggett. "We came from the depths of the middle of the season; we kept our heads in the game, kept on battling and kept on working at it."

Like the Tigers, Shaffer also faced challenges, missing 17 games with a groin injury during the regular season.

But Shaffer recently rediscovered his stroke at the plate and rebounded with three home runs over the final two games against
Alabama to help the Tigers reach the CWS for the fourth time since 2000.

"This is exactly why I came here," Shaffer said. "Me, personally, and a bunch of other guys had a tough decision before they came. I knew this is where I wanted to be and this is the program that would fit me the best."

The Tigers (43-23) will face Arizona State (52-8) Sunday as in the first round of the CWS at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium. Clemson's bracket also includes intra-state rival South Carolina and Oklahoma.

Regardless of whether Clemson has to go through its fiercest rival, outfielder John Hinson said the Tigers are not satisfied with a trip to the CWS that seemed unlikely less than two months ago.

"It was incredible with all the work we put into it," he said. "All the time and effort has paid off so far and we are going to Omaha to win it."