CLEMSON – Clemson coach Monte Lee believes his team has done enough to merit one of the coveted top-eight national seeds for the NCAA tournament regardless of its performance at this week's ACC tournament.
The Tigers (43-13) won the league's Atlantic Division by three games over N.C. State, its 22-8 record tying Coastal Division winner North Carolina for best in conference and earning the No. 2 seed via tiebreaker.
"We tied for the lead in the ACC in regular season with 22 wins and we're 43-13 which was the best among all Power 5 schools in the country," Lee said. "Of 295 Division-I schools, Tennessee Tech won more games than us and nobody else. There's not a Power 5 school in the country that won more games than Clemson. If you value what a team does in the regular season then we most certainly should be a national seed."
Clemson will definitely be named one of 16 NCAA Regional sites next week, but a top-eight seeding is still in question that would allow the Tigers to also host a super regional in the last step toward the College World Series. The Tigers have been a regional host in each of Lee's first two seasons with the program, including earning a national No. 7 seed in his 2016 debut after winning the program's first ACC tournament in 10 years.
Clemson has been unable to advance past the regionals, getting eliminated last year by Vanderbilt and two years ago by Oklahoma State in seeking the program's first trip to Omaha for the CWS since 2010 with Jack Leggett as coach.
The Tigers are in an ACC tournament pod with Notre Dame and Miami (who played Tuesday), facing Notre Dame at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Durham, N.C. and Miami at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Clemson took two of three games at Notre Dame in the regular season while dropping two of three at home to Miami, including blowing an eight-run lead entering the ninth inning of the series opener before losing in 12. That loss didn't linger, however, and the Tigers finished the regular season 17-2 in their last 19 outings.
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"I think we've got a lot of good vibes going on in the program right now and with the team this year," Lee said. "I don't know if I'd say momentum is overrated, but it's always going to be dictated by your starting pitcher that day. We've got to get off to good starts on the mound, swing the bats well, and have a certain level of heightened awareness and sense of urgency when we get runners in scoring position to find ways to get them in."
Lee continued, "We've got to do the little things. I think that's the big key when playing tournament baseball and you're playing in the postseason. If we continue to pitch and play defense the way we have, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win every game against anybody."
Lee said Monday he anticipates fleet-footed freshman outfielder Kier Meredith won't be available for the conference tournament with an oblique muscle injury. Meredith has only played 10 games this year after missing games from the beginning with an injured shoulder. Versatile Grayson Byrd, who ranks fourth on the team with nine homers, is expected to be limited as he recovers from injury.
Pitcher Jacob Hennessy is available this week after missing last week's start with inflammation in his throwing arm. The sophomore lefty started the season-opener and every weekend series opener until last week at Pittsburgh. When he throws again it could be in relief rather than his regular starting role.
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"Jacob's ready to go," Lee said. "He feels good, but we're going to use him however we feel like we need to. If we need to pitch him out of the bullpen, we'll do it, if we feel like we need to start him, we will. Great thing is he can do either, has experience in both."
Hennessy could start Wednesday and be on a pitch count with Lee promising precaution in bringing him back slowly. A starter has yet to be announced with freshmen Spencer Strider or Mat Clark the other most likely possibilities.
"If we start (Hennessy), it's probably going to have to be a shorter start just because he's been off," Lee said. "We're going to monitor his velocity and his stuff a couple of times through their lineup and see what does it look like, how is he recovering after he pitches, to try and maximize his role, whether it's out of the bullpen or as a starter. We don't know that yet until we see him and how good he feels and how good his stuff is."
This article is written by Eric Boynton from Spartanburg Herald-Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.