February 21, 2009

Clemson baseball team runs over Charlotte in season opener

CLEMSON -- There was one plausible excuse for why Clemson junior second baseman Mike Freeman tripped and humorously fell as he scored in the fifth inning Friday.

The 19th-ranked Tigers scored so scarcely a year ago that Freeman might have been unfamiliar with the lay of the home-plate land.

Routing Charlotte 8-3 provided a first piece of evidence supporting their contention this season will be drastically different.

"We know we can score runs," sophomore right fielder Kyle Parker said. "Hopefully it starts building confidence and we believe we're a pretty good team. Because we are."

To what degree their offensive outburst marked a reflection of its improvement is up for debate.

Parker went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, while redshirt sophomore center fielder Addison Johnson had three hits and three runs as the Tigers (1-0) won their fourth opener in a row.

Their last loss, coincidentally, came at the hands of the 49ers (0-1), who didn't look nearly the caliber of last year's NCAA tournament qualifier.

Packaged with hitting and aggressive baserunning, Clemson benefited from six Charlotte errors, all from the left side of the infield.

To be fair, they were partially the effect of the pressure the Tigers levied on the basepaths.

Clemson had nine steals (all in the first six innings), three short of the school record set against The Citadel in 1950.

For comparison, the total more than doubled the Tigers' season high (four) in a game last season.

That level of thievery figures to be the exception instead of the norm; Clemson believed it could exploit Charlotte's off-speed pitchers and catcher Mike Perkins' arm.

But Clemson Jack Leggett said he hopes to ratchet up the pressure on opposing pitchers thanks to Johnson's return to the leadoff spot.

"You saw it, that's what we missed last year," Leggett said. "If we just keep him rolling a little bit, he'll help generate some offense for us."

Johnson, who sat out most of last season with a wrist injury, swiped three bases, as did Freeman, the No. 2 hitter.

Clemson starter Trey Delk surrendered a solo homer in the top of the first inning to Charlotte first baseman Rob Lyerly, regarded as a favorite for Atlantic-10 player of the year.

But the Tigers nullified that in the bottom of the inning when Johnson singled and later scored on a Parker roller through the second-base hole.

In the third, Johnson beat out an infield single, then stole second and third before Parker scored a two-run double down the third-base line.

That put Clemson ahead 3-1, and it added five runs combined in the fifth and sixth innings to stretch ahead 8-1.

"It makes it easy on me when Addison's out there running around the bases like that," Parker said. "All I've got to do is put it in play."

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