Alabama, Clemson unexpected super regional foes

Published 10:36 pm Friday, June 11, 2010

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Alabama and Clemson are ready for the NCAA super regional few outside their fans ever expected.

Both the Crimson Tide (41-23) and Tigers (41-22) had to upset higher seeded NCAA regional hosts to make it this far. Now, that they’re at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, each hope to make the most of their chance to reach the College World Series.

“It is exciting,” said Casey Harman, who’ll start Saturday’s opener for Clemson. “It is always good to be back at home and the way things worked out for us, it is going to be good to play in Clemson.”

The Tigers didn’t figure they’d get this chance. Even a win at the Auburn Regional last week meant most likely a trip to Atlantic Coast Conference rival Georgia Tech, the tournament’s No. 8 overall seed.

But Alabama ended that with its 10-8 victory over the Yellow Jackets last Monday night.

That continued a stretch of resurgent play for the Crimson Tide, who were on the bubble for the Southeastern Conference tournament before winning its final five regular season games to get in.

“A few weeks ago, we almost didn’t make the SEC tournament and now we’re only two wins away from Omaha,” Alabama shortstop Josh Rutledge said. “It was definitely hard to imagine that going into the tournament. We had our backs against the wall and that’s what set us off.”

Clemson has also found its bounce late in the season.

The Tigers went through an 8-15 stretch in March and April, yet swept Florida State on the final weekend to win the ACC Atlantic Division. Clemson has kept its going since, taking control of the Auburn regional with strong starts from Scott Weismann and Harman the first two games.

“We manufactured a way to get back in the ball game during the course of the season and kept our heads in the game,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “I think we did a good job of that and our players kept on battling and working hard.”

Clemson power hitter Kyle Parker thinks it’ll be easier to keep his focus on baseball with the Major League draft complete. Parker, also the Tigers standout starter at quarterback, was selected No. 26 overall by the Colorado Rockies, a position where he figures to command an offer lucrative enough to buy him out of college football.

That issue can wait, Parker said. His mind is on one thing — Clemson reaching its first College World Series since 2006.

“This team has the potential to be great every time we step onto the field,” Parker said. “We had some moments in the middle of the season where we lost our focus a little bit and made some mistakes that really aren’t characteristic of this team. Now, we’re playing well when it counts.”

Alabama’s coaches and players could say the same thing. The Crimson Tide had to win three times in two days to advance — and did it by getting 18 runs combined in a pair of victories over powerhouse Georgia Tech.

“Sometimes teams go through skids and whether or not you have a good season depends on how you react to that skid,” said Alabama’s Jimmy Nelson, who’ll open on the mound Saturday. “This team has done a great job bouncing back in the last month and a half.”