COLUMBIA, S.C. — Clemson outfielder Chase Pinder knew the Tigers had all the tools to succeed, they were just missing a spark. Enter coach Monte Lee. In his first year coaching the Tigers he has them competing for a home NCAA regional in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference.
Pinder, a sophomore batting .320, is part of a feisty group of Tigers (29-15), who bounced back from losing three straight ACC series by taking two of three from title contender Florida State.A big reason is Lee, who was hired last summer to replace Hall-of-Famer Jack Leggett in Clemson's dugout. Leggett had led the Tigers to six College World Series trips in 22 seasons but none since 2010.
Even worse, the Tigers were not much of a factor in NCAA Tournament play in going 1-6 in their past three appearances.
Lee figured to see a disjointed group stung by the loss of their longtime coach. Instead, he found an eager team looking to move forward. With three weeks in the regular season, Clemson has a chance to surpass its win total of the previous two years and an outside shot at one of the top 16 seeds who host NCAA tournament regionals.
"From the beginning, I thought we had a chance to do some good things," Pinder said. "Coach Lee's made it more fun, more relaxed. Even in the tough times, it goes back to just having fun."
Although not always.
When Clemson was soundly beaten, 11-2, by the Seminoles last Sunday, Lee challenged his team to play smarter and make their at bats count. The result was Monday's 7-3 Tigers' victory.
"Everybody looked at this series as one the Tigers must win and we found a way to get it done," Lee said. "It just goes to show the character and selflessness of our team."
Clemson's offense is led by Seth Beer, a freshman outfielder who graduated high school a semester early to play with the Tigers. He's 16th in the country and fourth in the ACC with a .408 batting average. Beer is among national and league leaders with 14 homers and 51 RBIs. Plus, he's got a feel from the dramatic. On Wednesday night, Beer shook off an 0-for-5 night with an 11th-inning single to drive in Pinder with the winning run in a 7-6 victory over Furman.
"I was just trying to take a deep breath and slow the game down and put a good swing on a pitch," Beer said of the walk-off hit.
Beer was selected for the USA Collegiate national team earlier this week.
Catcher Chris Okey, at .345, is the third Tiger hitting over .300.
Clemson has been dicier on the mound this season with none of their three main starters in Clate Schmidt, Alex Eubanks and Charlie Barnes having an ERA under 4.70.
The Tigers strength has been reliever Pat Krall, a 6-foot-5 junior lefty who's 7-1 with a 0.68 ERA. He worked seven innings of relief in Monday's win over Florida State and been Clemson's go-to performer down the stretch.
Lee, who led College of Charleston to four NCAA Tournament trips, came in with few expectations after taking over last summer. He wanted players unafraid to take chances and learn from teammates. "We're excited to see what we can do," Lee said.
Pinder said in beating Florida State twice last weekend, Clemson showed the makeup of its early run when it started 17-3 including two wins over rival South Carolina.
"We kind of lost our focus after that with more mental errors than we should've had that affected our game," Pinder said. "We're going to try and build on what we've done last week."
This article was written by Pete Iacobelli from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.