Sports

Tigers enjoying their nomadic life, handling hostile crowds

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Seemingly always in pairs, Clemson baseball players casually meandered out Thursday afternoon to one of two chain restaurants across the parking lot from their hotel.

Little did the Tigers realize their good fortune. Mississippi State had struggled to scrounge together 27 rooms in one place, much less in the heart of the only commercial strip within 20 miles of its rural campus.

The road to Omaha has carried Clemson to the middle of nowhere, but contrary to their history, the Tigers are enjoying the nomadic life.

They have peaked the last month, which has coincided with three straight weekends on the road.

"We're in and out of hotels and just playing baseball," junior pitcher Daniel Moskos said. "That's not all bad."

"We've just gotten accustomed to handling a hostile environment. You just have to keep yourself composed. You have to realize that what's going on around the periphery isn't going to affect your play -- even if it's 10,000 cowbells."

Clemson realizes there will be a different feeling about its best-of-three Super Regional with the Bulldogs, which begins with today's noon opener on ESPN.

Nearly 9,000 tickets for the series had already been sold as of Wednesday, and organizers are prepared to pack as many as 15,000 people around Polk-DeMent Stadium if there is a strong walk-up crowd.

The NCAA had cited revenue potential as a significant criteria in the process that led Mississippi State to host the series, which caused Clemson officials to criticize the message and subjective nature of the criteria.

"I hope the NCAA enjoys the money," MSU coach Ron Polk said.

Based on the past, Clemson has not enjoyed its postseason traveling experiences.

Of the seven times they have reached the College World Series since 1980, only once did the Tigers make it without hosting a regional (1991).

Since then, they have failed to advance out of five of their six road regionals and have dropped all three road Super Regionals since the format was tweaked in 1999.

If its last month can be an indication, Clemson can throw those records out the bus window.

Its crazy road trip began the second week of May, when the enigmatic Tigers took the final two games of a series at then-No. 3 Florida State, which had been 32-2 at home.

After three close games at N.C. State, Clemson went to the ACC tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., and knocked off Miami and FSU, which had partisan crowds in their favor.

Then came last weekend's triumph in the Myrtle Beach Regional, which could carry an asterisk. Although hometown Coastal Carolina was the top seed, the Tigers admittedly benefited from having the majority of the orange-clad crowd in their corner.

Clemson's surge fit a recurring theme during the weekend, as nine of the 16 regional hosts were knocked out, including five national seeds.

"We've played well on the road and bonded together," coach Jack Leggett said. "We're going to take this as another challenge and hopefully parlay that into some kind of advantage."

Mississippi State will open the series with sophomore right-hander Chad Crosswhite (8-4, 4.16 ERA), who took the loss against the Tigers in their regional game at Clemson last year. The Bulldogs will go with junior lefty Justin Pigott (6-6, 4.31) in Saturday's game, while Clemson has yet to name its starter for that game.

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