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Tigers begin hope of bounce-back season today against Indiana.

By Brad Senkiw

Before the 2021 season, Clemson had not posted a losing record since 1957, but a new season and renewed spirit has the Tigers baseball program looking forward, not behind.

“We’ve talked about last season ad nauseam,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “Last season, last season, last season. We’re focusing on this season. We’ve moved on from last season. We’re trying to get ready for Indiana with this team, with this group. I feel like our guys are as prepared as they can be going into the weekend.”

The Tigers begin their quest for redemption when they host Indiana for a three-game weekend series, beginning today at 4 p.m. Saturday’s game is set for 3 p.m. while the series finale Sunday is scheduled for 1 p.m.

With a more experienced, healthier roster, Clemson believes better things are ahead. 

“Everybody knows that bitter taste (of last season)…I’m not trying to push it to the side,” Lee said. “Once spring started, we have focused on the business at hand, which is to get this club ready for a very tough schedule and we feel like our guys are in a really good spot.”

Here are five questions to answer if the Tigers are to have that bounce-back season in 2022:

What’s the plan with the weekend rotation?

The key word in this question is “plan.” The Tigers coaching staff didn’t have a great one at the beginning of last season. Injuries and a lack of depth forced them to use too many freshmen right out of the gate and it didn’t work. The plan was more about figuring out as they went along, but Lee vowed not to do that in 2022, and he and the staff spent the offseason developing a more trustworthy rotation. On paper, it looks pretty good with experience.

Mack Anglin, the Friday starter, had 86 strikeouts in 63.1 innings the last two seasons and has the stuff to thrive as an ace. Nick Clayton (Saturday) and Nick Hoffman (Sunday) have been two of the most consistent pitchers in the offseason. Geoffrey Gilbert, who has some of the best pitches on staff, will be the first guy out of the bullpen and could be a starter if one of the others falter.

What are the position battles to watch early in the season? 

Second base will be fun as Citadel transfer Tyler Corbitt and sophomore Blake Wright compete for the playing time. Corbitt has a ton of experience, hitting .333 in three seasons in the Southern Conference. Wright is scrappy and “tough as nails,” Lee said, so both could help the Tigers as the season goes along.

While Wright could also play third, that position is expected to be split between Bryar Hawkins and Max Wagner. Clemson is in great shape at catcher, where Jonathan French and Cooper Ingle give the Tigers options. Ingle can play other positions as well.

Who will Lee build the lineup around?

Caden Grice is the star of the team. There isn’t a question about that. A preseason All-American, Grice hit .317 with 15 home runs as a freshman in 2021. But one man doesn’t make a complete lineup. Lee will be surrounding him with a pair of good hitters to help form a formidable trio.

Chad Fairey hit six home runs in the fall season and is going to be one of the top run producers on the team.

Ingle has been called the team’s “best hitter” by Lee and will be an every-day fixture in the lineup.

It’s a good group to build around, and if outfielder Dylan Brewer can reach his potential this year, the Tigers will have an offense it can trust more in 2022.

What’s the bullpen situation like in late innings?

Lee is turning to lefty Ryan Ammons in save situations to start the season. The Easley native has only pitched in 4.1 innings in his two-year career, but Lee said he’s been “absolutely dominant” in the preseason.

If he’s needed to pitch more and can’t go in back-to-back games, the Tigers will turn to Alex Edmundson, who made just five relief appearances as a freshman last season. Freshman Casey Tallent is also an option in late-inning situations in 2022. 

Will the Tigers get back to the NCAA tournament?

This is the million-dollar question. Aside from the 2020 COVID-19 year when the season was canceled in March and there was no NCAA tournament, the Tigers had made the big postseason event in 32 of the previous 33 seasons. It’s a huge deal and an expectation of the program.

They don’t put “Omaha,” home of the College World Series, on the back of the hats for nothing. But Clemson hasn’t been there or even made it out of an NCAA Regional since 2010.

For that to change, Clemson has to first make a regional that, despite being picked fifth by the ACC coaches in the Atlantic Division in the preseason, is a reasonable expectation for 2022.

This group is deeper, healthier and more cohesive than last year, and the coaching staff learned a lot through failure that should help them manage the 2022 Tigers much better. While the schedule and the conference won’t be easy, this team is tough enough to get back to the postseason.