- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Clemson coach Jack Leggett says he’s ready to put last season behind him and return the Tigers to the top of college baseball.

The Tigers longtime coach said his team never really found its groove this past spring and ended at 36-25 after getting knocked out of NCAA regional play in two straight games last month.

The coach met with Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich following the season and both agreed there was reason for optimism moving forward to 2015. Leggett thinks there’s a strong core of players in the lineup and on the mound to make Clemson more competitive in the improving Atlantic Coast Conference.

Leggett said recruiting has gone well and he believes he’ll have players who can step in for Clemson stars like pitching ace Daniel Gossett, a junior who was chosen in the second round by the Oakland A’s.

Also gone from this past year’s team are closer Matt Campbell, first baseman Jon McGibbon, second baseman Steve Wilkerson, shortstop Jay Baum and outfielder Garrett Boulware. Baum and Boulware, like Gossett, gave up their senior seasons to turn pro.

“That’s part of what happens every year, you lose guys and look to other guys to step up,” Leggett said. “I think we’ve got guys who can step up.”

Leggett had expected better results from this year’s club, which ranked as high as 11th in the country earlier in the season. But the Tigers struggled in the field - their 89 errors led the Atlantic Coast Conference - and failed to hold down opponents as their pitching staff had an ERA of 3.94 that ranked 11th in the 14-team league.

While the Tigers reached the NCAA tournament for the 20th time in Leggett’s 21 seasons, they quickly were sent home after going 0-2.

“There were some disappointing things about this year,” Leggett said. “We think we can correct the problems and take a positive step forward.”

Despite the personnel losses, Leggett sees a solid group prepared to take control of the team including catcher Chris Okey, right fielder Steven Duggar and designated hitter Tyler Krieger. The pitching staff will be led by sophomore Matthew Crownover, who went 8-5 with a 2.26 ERA this past season.

Leggett acknowledged he was also disappointed by the talk of some fans on Internet and sports radio that Clemson’s program was fading under the 60-year-old’s leadership. Leggett, a Hall-of-Fame coach who won his 1,300th career game this season, says that’s not the case and is confident he’ll bring the team back to the top in college baseball.

Radakovich said he’d heard from some frustrated supporters about the direction, but saw a strong foundation that Leggett had built.

“While every program not achieving its desired results has questions, I firmly believe following the research done, that the culture in the baseball program is solid,” he said in a statement.

Leggett wishes the season started next week so he could begin seeing results where it matters most - on the field.

“This year wasn’t quite what we wanted, but we’ll learn and grow from this,” he said. “This is a really strong program and we’ll get it back to where we all want.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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