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Jun 25, 2020

2020 Season Review

By: Brian Hennessy

Final Notes

The 2020 season got off to a hot start and saw the Tigers have many highlights, but the season will forever be remembered for how and when it ended. Clemson had a 14-3 record through its first 17 games, but on March 12, the season came to an abrupt end. On that day, the season was suspended due to a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the season was later canceled.

Led by fifth-year Head Coach Monte Lee, the abbreviated season was a success in many ways. Clemson’s 82.4 winning percentage was the fourth highest in school history and best since 1991. The Tigers were ranked as high as No. 19 by Perfect Game in the final polls and were in the final top 25 of all six polls.

A big reason for Clemson’s success was its 6-0 record in one-run games and 3-1 record in two-run games. Clemson lost only one game when leading at the end of any inning, and that came in a game the Tigers led 1-0 after the first inning. Therefore, Clemson went on to win every game in which it led at the end of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Those close victories enabled the Tigers to register their 56th season in a row with a winning record.

Seven of the nine offensive starters from the 2020 season were sophomores, while another was a freshman. Two of the three weekend starters were sophomores as well.

Many of those young pitchers and the rest of the pitching staff carried the Tigers during the shortened season. Clemson had a 2.60 ERA, .214 opponents’ batting average and 188 strikeouts in 156.0 innings pitched. The Tigers held opponents to a .176 batting average with runners on base, .166 batting average with runners in scoring position and 1-for-23 (.043) with the bases loaded. Tiger pitchers also allowed just nine of 52 inherited baserunners to score. Clemson pitched four shutouts and held the opponent to three runs or less in 12 games as well.

Sam Weatherly, who was a third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball, led the way as Clemson’s Friday starter. He was 2-0 with an 0.79 ERA, .096 opponents’ batting average and 43 strikeouts in 22.2 innings pitched over four starts. He had at least eight strikeouts in all four starts and at least 10 strikeouts in each of his last three starts. He earned national player-of-the-week honors by Collegiate Baseball in consecutive starts, including a dominant performance at South Carolina to receive the Bob Bradley Award as Clemson’s MVP of the rivalry series.

Carson Spiers was a dominant closer, as he was 3-0 with four saves. He allowed just five hits (all singles), one unearned run and three walks with 17 strikeouts in 15.1 innings pitched over nine relief appearances.

Geoffrey Gilbert, who was a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, stepped in and made a big contribution. He was 1-0 and gave up just seven hits (.159 opponents’ batting average) and one run (0.71 ERA) with 14 strikeouts in 12.2 innings pitched over eight relief outings. He also did not allow any of his eight inherited baserunners to score.

Three more freshmen had strong first seasons in Tigertown. Nick Clayton yielded just one unearned run and four hits in 8.2 innings pitched over six relief appearances. Carter Raffield returned from an injury that forced him to miss the 2019 season and gave up just one run in 7.2 innings pitched over four relief outings. Nick Hoffmann was 2-1 and allowed two runs and no walks with 11 strikeouts in 11.0 innings pitched over seven relief appearances.

Junior Mat Clark as well as sophomores Davis Sharpe, Jackson Lindley, Keyshawn Askew and Spencer Strider also made strong contributions in 2020.

The Tiger offense emerged late in the season, hitting .329 in the last four games to help Clemson end the season on a five-game winning streak. Clemson also hit .264 with a .363 on-base percentage and totaled 26 steals. The Tigers had a .963 fielding percentage as well.

Sophomores Elijah Henderson and Kier Meredith led the Tigers offensively. Henderson, who made nine starts in the outfield and eight starts at second base, hit .323 with seven doubles, 12 RBIs, 10 runs, a .456 on-base percentage and three steals. He also had 10 two-out RBIs. Meredith reached base via a hit or walk in all 17 games and had a .455 on-base percentage. He also had a team-high .364 batting average.

Sharpe, who was 1-1 with a 3.93 ERA and 20 strikeouts against four walks in 18.1 innings pitched over four starts, hit .311 wtih a team-high four homers and 10 RBIs in 13 games on offense.

Adam Hackenberg was the only Tiger with more than 11 starts at the same position, as he started all 17 games behind the plate. He hit .295 with a team-high 15 RBIs, and he threw out 10 of 23 basestealers. James Parker, Bryar Hawkins, Dylan Brewer and Chad Fairey also played a significant role for the Tiger offense.

Clemson began the season with a seven-game winning streak. The Tigers swept Liberty at home in three games by a combined score of 12-5. In the opener, four Tiger pitchers combined to strand 17 runners on base in the 5-3 win, then Clemson won 1-0 in the second game behind Sharpe’s 5.0 innings pitched. The Tigers capped the sweep with a 6-2 win behind Hackenberg’s three hits and three RBIs.

A 3-2 midweek win over Furman began a streak over four games where Clemson held opponents scoreless for 33 consecutive innings, its longest streak since May 3-9, 1967 (38).

The Tigers swept Stony Brook at home in the first three meetings between the two programs by a combined score of 6-1. Weatherly totaled 14 strikeouts in 6.0 innings pitched in Clemson’s 2-0 win in the opener, then Henderson hit a walkoff single in the 10th inning in the Tigers’ 1-0 victory in the second game. Clemson capped the sweep with a 3-1 victory after the Tigers scored two eighth-inning runs to break a 1-1 tie.

After Clemson’s first setback of the season in East Tennessee State’s 5-3 win on Feb. 25, Clemson won two of three games against South Carolina. In the opener at South Carolina, Weatherly and Gilbert combined on a one-hitter in Clemson’s 7-1 win. Weatherly pitched 7.0 hitless and scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts. The Gamecocks’ lone hit came in the ninth inning on a home run. Brewer, Meredith and Sharpe all hit two-run homers.

South Carolina responded with an 8-5 win at Segra Park in Columbia, then the Tigers won the series with a 5-2 win in the finale at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Parker’s two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning broke a 2-2 tie. Clark tossed 3.0 scoreless innings in relief to earn the win.

College of Charleston downed the Tigers 11-2 on March 4, then the Tigers swept Boston College in a three-game home series by a combined score of 23-14. In the first game, Hackenberg lined a single in the eighth inning to plate the go-ahead run in the Tigers’ 4-3 win.

Clemson totaled a season-high 14 hits in its 12-5 win in the second game, as Henderson, Fairey and Bo Majkowski had three hits apiece. The Tigers capped the sweep with a 7-6 win, as Clemson rallied from a 6-3 deficit. Sam Hall scored on Parker’s grounder in the ninth inning for the walkoff win.

Sharpe earned national player-of-the-week honors by totaling two home runs and a career-high five RBIs in Clemson’s 12-0 win over Presbyterian College. The Tigers’ final game was a 3-2 win in 11 innings over Winthrop on March 11. After Clemson, who averaged 4,311 fans per home date, tied the score with a run in the ninth inning, Fairey belted a two-out single to score Henderson for the walkoff run.

Two Tigers were selected in the MLB draft, which was only five rounds, after the season. Weatherly was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the third round (No. 81 overall pick) and Strider was chosen by the Atlanta Braves in the fourth round (No. 126 overall pick). Sheldon Reed (Chicago Cubs) and Spiers (Cincinnati Reds) signed a free-agent contract as well.