Elaine Day of the Clemson sports blog Shakin The Southland was gracious enough to answer some of our questions heading into today's Fullerton Regional opener between the Tigers and Sun Devils. Her answers are below, and you can view my responses to their questions here. Be sure to follow @STSouthland throughout the weekend for all of your Clemson baseball needs.
House of Sparky: Ever since Clemson hung a 23 spot at Furman a couple weeks ago, the Tigers have been one of the hottest teams in the country. What has sparked the turnaround?
Elaine Day: This team has had it in them all season, and I firmly believe that. The talent is and always has been there; six Tigers were named to All-ACC teams this year. However, the consistency was often lacking, and capitalizing on opportunities with runners in scoring position was one of the big problems. Just a few games prior to that Furman matchup, freshman Robert Jolly made his first start at designated hitter, and he has since become the daily starter, taking full advantage of the opportunity. He’s batting .340 and has really been a catalyst to solidifying the batting order. Clemson’s first five hitters are almost always consistent, getting on base and scoring, but the latter half of the order has been adjusted constantly throughout the year due to cold bats. With Jolly providing some much-needed clutch hitting, the lineup has remained steady and it feels like everyone has started to get their bats going in their respective part of the order.
HoS: Assuming either Matthew Crownover or Zach Erwin gets the start on Friday against Arizona State, who might the Sun Devils see if the two teams meet up again on Sunday?
ED: In the latter part of the season, Jake Long made his name as the third starter. He has a 2-1 record with a 2.20 ERA in 12 games, seven of which he started. He’s struck out 38 in 49 innings pitched, and opponents are only hitting .199 against him. If people do get on base, Long has one of the stronger pickoff moves on the pitching staff. He did have a bit of a tough outing in the ACC Tournament against North Carolina, giving up five runs in 3.2 innings pitched; however, only two of those runs were earned, as defensive blunders led to extended innings and extra scoring opportunities. He is a strong pitcher, but in the event that he has a short outing, expect to see relievers like lefty Pat Krall or right-hander Taylor Vetzel, two pitchers that have been forces out of the bullpen all year long.
HoS: Just how good is that one-two punch of Crownover and Erwin?
ED: When asked about Erwin’s performance at the ACC Tournament last week, second baseman Tyler Krieger said that the left-hander was "as good as it gets." That sentiment really extends to both pitchers, who have been dominant all year. Crownover was named Clemson’s first ever ACC Pitcher of the Year and boasts a 10-2 record with a 1.59 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 102 innings pitched. Erwin has been similarly strong, going 7-4 with a 2.66 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 101.1 innings pitched. Both lefties were especially solid during the later games of the season, stumping lineups like those of Florida State, in Tallahassee, and No. 3 Louisville in the ACC Tournament.
HoS: The selection committee ended up having the Tigers as the last at-large team to make the field of 64. Does that seem accurate to you, or is this team better than that?
ED: I am confident that this team is better than that, and I’m excited to see how they respond to this opportunity they have been given. Granted, I completely understand why the selection committee might have had a hard time with their season resume. The team suffered some pretty bad midweek losses to teams that did not make the tournament, and, outside of the defeat of Kyle Funkhouser and Louisville at the ACC Tournament, the performance in Durham was nothing special. However, given that the Tigers played consistently well against top-ranked teams all season, split the season series with Louisville, swept Florida State in Tallahassee and were one of three ACC teams to not get swept all season, I know that we earned the bid.
HoS: Arizona State and Pepperdine figure to have a fair amount of fans making the trip to Fullerton this weekend. Do Clemson fans travel well?
ED: During football season, it feels like Clemson fans would travel to the ends of the earth to see their Tigers play. While the hype is not quite so pronounced around the baseball team, we did average 4,251 fans at each home game this year, the ninth-highest attendance in the country and second in the ACC. I went to numerous away games this season, and there was always a solid Clemson contingent at each game I attended. I expect this regional to be no different, regardless of distance, as Clemson fans can be found pretty much everywhere. Also, Tyler Krieger is originally from Laguna Hills, California, so some fans might turn out to welcome him back for a homecoming of sorts.
HoS: Prediction for Friday's game, and then your thoughts on the regional as a whole?
ED: If the defense holds up, and Crownover pitches like he always does, I think that Clemson will win Friday’s matchup. For the rest of the regional, I anticipate that Erwin will continue his strong performance and the Tigers will get at least one more win. According to BoydsWorld.com, Clemson has the second-best probability among No. 3 seeds to make the College World Series at 16.6 percent, and I know that this team is eager to prove that they deserved their bid.