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Opponent Preview: Clemson

Meet the Tigers... Getting traction under their first-year head coach

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 24 ACC Championship - Clemson v North Carolina Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: Clemson

Mascot: Fightin’ Dabos | School Location: Calhoun, SC | Conference: ACC

2023 Record: 22-16 (6-9, 6th Atlantic) | 2023 RPI Rank: 46

2022 Record: 35-23 (13-16, 6th Atlantic) | 2022 RPI Rank: 39

2021 Record: 25-27 (16-20, 5th Atlantic) | 2021 RPI Rank: 61

When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Doak Field at Dail Park (Raleigh, NC)

Game Time(s): Fri, Apr 21 @ 6:00pm | Sat, Apr 22 @ 4:00pm | Sun, Apr 23 @ 1:00pm

TV: Friday (ACCNX), Saturday (ACCNX), Sunday (ACCNX)

Radio: The Varsity Network (Friday | Saturday | Sunday)

Live Stats: Sidearm Stats

Tell me about this team

Erik Bakich is in year one of what might be his easiest coaching job. The East Carolina alum who played under legendary coach Keith LeClair spent his first year as an assistant coach at Clemson back in 2002 when the Tigers made their fourth of six trips to the College World Series under legendary coach Jack Leggett. He then went to Vanderbilt as the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach of the inaugural staff of legendary coach Tim Corbin.

After seven seasons of successfully convincing kids to go play on that garbage field of Vandy’s while some random guy whistles non-stop in the stands, Bakich left for the head coaching gig at Maryland, a program that hadn’t been good at baseball since the Nixon administration. After two rough rebuilding years, Bakich’s third Terrapin team (2012) finished 32nd in RPI and that was enough to get the attention of Michigan and give Bakich reason to get the hell out of Maryland, something we can all agree was a wise move. Bakich did put in place the foundation in Maryland that current Virginia Tech coach John Szefc was able to use to lead the Terps to back-to-back Super Regional appearances with teams mostly built of Bakich recruits.

The once-proud Michigan baseball program, which had a seven-year run in the late 70’s to early 80’s where they made five CWS appearances, had fallen off a cliff under Rich Maloney after Maloney looked like he was getting the program turned around. Bakich took a program that had back-to-back losing seasons with RPIs in the 200’s and within three years had them in an NCAA Regional. In Year 7, he took the Wolverines to Omaha. His last eight years with the program were the most successful for Michigan since Reagan was in the White House.

That’s 20+ years spent successfully coaching at programs that really shouldn’t be successful in baseball.

Clemson is a program that is located in a beautiful part of a baseball talent-rich region. It should be and has been successful for almost the entirety of the time it has existed. Bill Wilhelm and Jack Leggett were the only two head coaches from 1958-2015 because, well, they won so damn much that another coach wasn’t needed. Monte Lee took over when Leggett retired and after a great first three years in which the Tigers hosted a regional each season, things declined and the faithful got impatient.

Enter Bakich and his ability to create winning programs where they shouldn’t be, except now with a program that has all the elements to be successful.

His first iteration of Tigers baseball isn’t far off that of his predecessor, but rebuilds take time. The lineup is going to have to rebuild next year as it’s laden with upperclassmen this year and should be hit heavy with losses from the MLB Draft, but the pitching staff - already improved over a year ago - is a youth movement that should pay dividends moving forward.

The team appears to be putting it together, though. After losing their first three ACC series (vs Duke, at Georgia Tech, vs Wake Forest), they’re 6-3 over the last two weeks and change with ACC series wins at Florida State and home against Notre Dame, and midweek victories over Coastal Carolina and Georgia for good measure. The hitters are all talented and the pitching staff seems to be figuring it out. This could be a dangerous team over the rest of this year and for years to come should Bakich find the same success in Clemson that he’s had everywhere else he’s been.

Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Friday: LHP Ethan Darden (SO)

Saturday: RHP Austin Gordon (SO)

Sunday: LHP/1B Caden Grice (JR)

Key Players:


CF Cam Cannarella (FR - .411/.491/.562, 12.3 BB%, 13.5 K%, 17-20 SB. Basically in a four-way race for ACC Freshman of the Year (the others are Georgia Tech’s Kristian Campbell, UNC’s Casey Cook, and NC State’s own Dom Fritton). Hitting .434/.508/585 in ACC play, which is absurd, let alone for a guy who was ranked as the ACC’s 36th best freshman before the season by D1 Baseball.

1B Caden Grice (JR) - .315/.421/.597, 13.8 BB%, 28.3 K%, 3-4 SB. The 2021 Freshman All-American is back to murdering baseballs after a sophomore slump in 2022. The shine from that freshman campaign - when he was launched into 1st round discussions - is greatly diminished thanks to serious strikeout issues, but the man can still mash. He’s hitting .396/.493/.830 in ACC play.

LF Will Taylor (rSO) - .321/.442/.473, 15.3 BB%, 19.6 K%, 6-6 SB. Two-sport stud who also plays WR for the Tigers football team, Taylor would have been a 1st round MLB draft pick out of high school had he not been firm in his commitment to play baseball and football for Clemson. He tore his ACL in football as a freshman, which caused him to miss the 2021 baseball season. Played sparingly last year, but is now putting that potential into action.

DH Billy Amick (SO) - .386/.434/.671, 5.2 BB%, 19.5 K%, 2-2 SB. Just a dude going from hitting .105 with 11 Ks in 19 PAs as a freshman to doing what he’s doing this year. Over his last four games is 7-of-12 with 3 2B and 1 HR.


LHP Ethan Darden (FR) - 2-2, 5.04 ERA, 30.1 IP, 10.1 BB%, 18.7 K%. Just recently went from midweek starter and weekend reliever to Friday night starter. Went 5.0 shutout innings against FSU two weeks ago, but Notre Dame roughed him up for 5 ER in 2.0 innings last Friday.

RHP Austin Gordon (SO) - 1-3, 4.88 ERA, 48.0 IP, 5.0 BB%, 21.8 K%. Was a key reliever as a freshman last year, but is successfully transitioning to a starter role this year. The only member of the weekend rotation to remain there all year. Mostly a fastball-slider guy, with the heater sitting in the low-to-mid 90’s.

LHP Caden Grice (JR) - 2-1, 3.55 ERA, 25.1 IP, 14.7 BB%, 31.0 K%. Get a load of Two-Way Tommy over here! Grice is just good at baseball, but he’s more of a thrower than a pitcher. Big arm with swing-and-miss stuff, but also serious control issues (19 BB and 3 HBP).

RHP Nick Clayton (JR) - 2-0, 0 SV, 1.67 ERA, 27.0 IP, 6.2 BB%, 29.2 K%. Back in a relief role after last year’s attempt at starting failed. He’s their best reliever now and pitching a lot more in ACC play (18.0 IP, 1.00 ERA). Dropped to a sidearm pitcher this year, which has been a good move for him.

RHP Jackson Lindley (SR) - 1-3, 2 SV, 2.91 ERA, 21.2 IP, 8.2 BB%, 23.7 K%. Fifth-year senior who has been all over the place. Started six games and put up a 3.68 ERA as a freshman in 2019, then got rocked for 12 ER on 17 H in 4.1 IP as a sophomore in 2021, but he’s been solid over the last two years. Groundball specialist.

RHP Reed Garris (SO) - 2-0, 0 SV, 2.60 ERA, 17.1 IP, 8.2 BB%, 31.5 K%. Was the backup catcher for the team last year before moving to a PO role this year. Has been especially good at inducing flyballs, which can be an issue at The Doak.

Quick! Fun Facts!

Gino Groover earned ACC Player of the Week honors last week for his 8-for-14, 4 HR, 8 R, 7 RBI performance over State’s last four games.

Clemson has three alums at the MLB level this year: RHP Spencer Strider (Braves) and his mustache, OF Eli White (Braves), and UTIL “Bamboo” Brad Miller (Rangers).

In 58 total years at the helm of the Tigers program, Bill Wilhelm and Jack Leggett never had a losing season. You can probably understand why the fans were a little upset over 2021.

For being so close to their neighboring state to the north, Clemson surprisingly only has one player from the state of North Carolina: JR C Cooper Ingle (A.C. Reynolds HS, Asheville). Heck, they have two coaches from East Carolina (Bakich and Assistant Head Coach Nick Schnabel).


Both teams are coming into this one playing some really good baseball. It should be a highly competitive series, but State’s had the better starting pitching of late and so I’ll give the advantage there.

Outcome: Pack take two of three.