Sports

Clemson's Leggett says Tigers should improve next season

COLUMBIA -- Moments after Clemson coach Jack Leggett absorbed the disappointment of the Tigers' season after watching the NCAA tournament selection show last month, he made sure everyone in the room knew things had to improve.

More than three weeks later, the sour taste hasn't left Clemson's longtime coach. Neither has his resolve that the Tigers won't go through this again.

Clemson had gone to 21 straight NCAA tournaments, the last 14 under Leggett, until missing out this season. Leggett felt perhaps Clemson's 31-27-1 mark against a difficult schedule and the strength of the ACC -- three league teams in Florida State, Miami and North Carolina reached the College World Series -- might earn them an at-large invitation.

When it didn't, Leggett pointed his team toward next season.

"Immediately, we had a meeting right then and there," Leggett said Monday. "'This is what we've got to do. Everybody here has got to grow up. Everybody here has got to get a little better. Everybody here has got to improve."'

"We all have to get better at what we do," Leggett said.

The season was definitely a low point for Leggett, who's earned five CWS trips with the Tigers since taking over in 1994 from the program's modern-day patriarch Bill Wilhelm.

The 31 victories were the Tigers' fewest under Leggett. They were swept four games by state rival South Carolina. They endured a midseason 11-game losing streak that was the school's longest ever in a sport it first played in 1896.

Leggett did not exempt himself from his mandate to pick things up for 2009.

"Whenever you're the head coach, you're responsible," he said. "When you win, everybody's excited for you and you've got all the answers. When you don't, then you have to evaluate what you work on."

Leggett says Clemson didn't adequately make up for the loss of centerfielder, and spark plug, Addison Johnson, who missed this year with hamstring and hand injuries.

Also, Clemson needed to use too many untested players to make up for the loss of a core of veterans who brought Clemson to the CWS in 2006 and the NCAA super regional in 2007.

The coach figured Clemson's rugged schedule would get the inexperienced players ready down the stretch. While Leggett was proud of his group's effort and cohesiveness, the Tigers never got enough clutch hitting or pitching to guarantee postseason play.

Leggett doesn't expect that to be the case next season.

Johnson should be back in good health by the spring and "could be one of the better players in the conference," Leggett said.

Kyle Parker, the Clemson freshman who led the club with 14 homers, should see time in the outfield when not a DH, along with returnees Jeff Schaus, Wilson Boyd and Chris Epps.

Stan Widmann, a redshirt junior this past season who played on Clemson's last CWS team two years ago, should be back to solidify the infield.

Second baseman Mike Freeman, who transferred from Georgia, led the Tigers with a .332 average.

Clemson loses senior catcher Doug Hogan, but Leggett likes freshman John Nester and newcomer Phil Pohl, who comes from Cooperstown, N.Y., home of baseball's Hall of Fame.

Leggett's got his fingers crossed that two drafted juniors in D.J. Mitchell and former Northwestern standout Ryan Hinson forego pro careers for one more season to boost Clemson's pitching rotation.

Mitchell led Clemson with a 3.47 ERA in 20 appearances, 14 of them starts. He was picked in the 10th round by the New York Yankees.

Hinson was chosen by Pittsburgh in the 31st round.

Clemson also awaits the decision of star high-school righty Scott Weismann from Boxborough, Mass., a player selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 18th round and who could factor into next spring's rotation.

Leggett says it'll be a wait-and-see situation all summer long. Pro teams have until a player's first fall class to sign them before losing their rights.

One thing Leggett didn't see much of last season from the Tigers was competition for playing time. "This year, we've got it coming," he said.

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