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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, baseball

CLEMSON — The No. 6 Clemson baseball team (12-1) is off to its best start in 16 years after defeating the Wofford Terriers Tuesday night and the Michigan State Spartans Wednesday night.

While they are still a month of perfect baseball away from moving ahead of the 2002 team – which reached 26-1, finished the season 55-17, was awarded a No. 4 national seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the College World Series -- this year’s Tiger squad just continues to find ways to win.

Whether it is a walk-off triple to take the series against their instate rival or a come-from-behind 9-7 victory over the Spartans Wednesday night, in which the Tigers had to overcome a 6-0 deficit, this group of Tigers continues to win games.

"Nothing was going our way early in the ballgame,” head coach Monte Lee said. “Michigan State just caught fire offensively, swung the bats very well and we're down 6-0 before you know it and we just had one of those innings where the offense got contagious. We had 13 consecutive quality at-bats; I don't know if I've ever seen that before. But found a way to put nine runs on the board, and then we hung on for dear life.”

The Tigers will look to continue their hot start to the 2018 season this weekend as they host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-3) in the opening series of ACC play.

The Yellow Jackets are led at the top of their lineup by their top four hitters, all of whom are hitting over .326. Lead-off hitter Wade Bailey currently ranks third on the Yellow Jacket team in average (.360), two-hole hitter Chase Murray leads the ACC in hitting with a .458 average, and the three and four hitters in the lineup, Joey Bart (.326) and Tristin English (.327), have combined to hit seven home runs, five doubles and 22 RBIs.

With the Tigers in the midst of playing eight games in 10 days, it will be critical that starting pitching helps out a bullpen that Wednesday night was running out of arms — and that includes closer Ryley Gilliam, who continued his early season struggles Wednesday night.

For the second straight game, Carson Spiers saved the day — pitching 3.2 innings Tuesday night to earn the win in relief and then retiring the last two outs Wednesday night to earn the save.

But Lee and the rest of the coaching staff will continue to rely on Gilliam to take the mound in an attempt to work through his struggles — but with an eye on Spiers.

"As far as Ryley goes, we have to run Ryley out there,” Lee said. “We have to get Ryley going, so we've got to continue to use one of our better arms in tight situations. But Carson certainly deserves the opportunity to continue to go out there in tough spots with the way he's thrown the ball lately."

The Tigers open the series with Georgia Tech Friday (moved from 6:30 to 4 p.m.) as Jacob Hennessy (1-0, 1.69 ERA) will face off against Xzavion Curry (3-0, 1.00 ERA). Saturday (4 p.m.), the Tigers will send Brooks Crawford (1-0, 1.98 ERA) to the mound to take on Brant Hurter (0-0, 5.40 ERA). Jake Higginbotham (2-0, 2.08 ERA) will get the ball in Sunday’s (1 p.m.) finale as he will face Connor Thomas (2-0, 1.42 ERA).

All of three of the games can be seen on the ACC Network Extra.

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.


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