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Jul 19, 2023

2023 Season Review

By: Brian Hennessy

Notes (PDF)

Whenever Clemson has a first-year head coach, the Tigers win an ACC title. That tradition continued in 2023, when first-year Head Coach Erik Bakich directed Clemson to its 16th ACC championship, becoming the fifth Tiger head coach in a row to capture an ACC title either in the first ACC season (1954) or his first year as head coach of the Clemson program.

It did not look like the Tigers were headed to an ACC title in the first half of 2023, as they were in last place in the overall conference standings in early April at 2-8. But Clemson turned its season around and was one of the nation’s hottest teams in the second half of 2023.

Clemson finished with a 44-19 overall record, its best mark since 2018, and its first ACC title since 2016. The 44 wins tied for 11th most in the nation as well. The Tigers, who had 24 come-from-behind wins, finished ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation by Baseball America. The Tigers won 18 of their last 20 ACC regular-season games to finish with a 20-10 league mark, the ACC’s second-best record. Including its 4-0 record in the ACC Tourney, the Tigers had a 24-10 mark against ACC teams, as they won 20 of their last 21 games and each of their last 14 games versus ACC foes.

Clemson also won its last seven ACC series after losing its first three series. It marked the first time the Tigers won seven ACC series in a row during one season since 1994, when it won all eight ACC series. During that stretch and into the NCAA Tournament, Clemson won 17 games in a row (from the last game of April to the first game of June). It tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in school history and was the longest since winning 17 games in a row in late 2006.

Despite the two losses in the Clemson Regional, the Tigers still won 22 of their last 25 games on the season and had a 15-0 record in May, its first undefeated month (excluding February) since May 1976.

The season was also turned around due in large part to its success in road games, as Clemson won 12 of its last 13 road contests. The Tigers had a 14-5 road record after starting the year 2-4 in road games. Clemson was 11-4 in ACC road games as well.

The team’s success was even more notable due to the fact that it played one of the nation’s toughest schedules, which included 56 of its 63 games against teams with a .500 or better overall record. The Tigers, who had a strength of schedule of No. 9, had an ACC-high 4,509 fans per home date (35).

Clemson’s success came from its strong play in all facets of the game. Its .306 batting average and .400 on-base percentage were its best marks since 2011. The Tigers also had 103 steals, their most since 2013.

Despite a rash of injuries to the pitching staff during the first half of the season, Clemson had a solid 4.30 ERA and .249 opponents’ batting average. The Tigers set a school record with a .977 fielding percentage.

Clemson finished the season 19th in the nation in ERA and 22nd in batting average. The Tigers joined Virginia and Oral Roberts as the only teams to finish in the top 25 in the nation in those two categories in 2023.

Caden Grice became Clemson’s first winner of the John Olerud Two-Way Player-of-the-Year Award. He also earned first-team All-America honors. Grice emerged as a dominant force on the mound, as he was 8-1 with a 3.35 ERA, .196 opponents’ batting average and 101 strikeouts in 78.0 innings pitched over 14 starts.

At the plate, Grice hit .307 while leading the team in homers (18) and RBIs (68), and he added a school-record three grand slams. The clutch hitter, who had 38 two-out RBIs, became the first Tiger in history to either lead the team or tie for the team lead in wins and homers in one season. He also became the first Tiger since Jarrod Schmidt (2001,02) to earn All-ACC honors as both a hitter and pitcher during a career.

Billy Amick burst onto the scene during midseason to become a first-team All-American and First-Team All-ACC selection. He batted .413 with 13 homers, 63 RBIs and a team-high .772 slugging percentage in only 46 games. He became the first Tiger since Khalil Greene (.470) in 2002 to hit .400 in a season.

Cam Cannarella also had a breakout year, as he was named ACC Freshman-of-the-Year by hitting .388 with seven homers, 47 RBIs, 72 runs and 24 steals. The first-team freshman All-American and First-Team All-ACC pick reached base via a hit or walk in 57 of his 59 games, while his 97 hits and 72 runs were the most by a Tiger since 2010. He led the ACC with a .408 batting average in ACC regular-season games. His .388 batting average was highest in the nation among Power 5 Conference freshmen and his 97 hits led all freshmen.

Cooper Ingle, a Third-Team All-ACC selection who hit .328 with 60 runs, had a 19-game hitting streak and 51-game on-base streak in 2023. Will Taylor was also a key cog in the offense, as he hit .362 with five homers, 46 RBIs, 67 runs, a team-high 489 on-base percentage and 11 steals. Benjamin Blackwell added an ACC-high 27 steals and Riley Bertram solidified the infield at second base with strong leadership and one of the team’s hottest bats down the stretch.

Austin Gordon made a start on the mound in all 16 weekends and had a 4.61 ERA and 76 strikeouts against 22 walks in a team-high 84.0 innings pitched. Nick Clayton, Reed Garris and Ryan Ammons all contributed out of the bullpen. Clayton’s eight wins were the most without a loss by a Tiger since 2006, as he utilized his new delivery to be effective. Garris was 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA, .181 opponents’ batting average and 39 strikeouts in 29.2 innings pitched over a team-high 27 outings. Ammons added a team-high five saves.

The Bakich era began with a three-game home sweep of Binghamton by a combined score of 33-6. In the opener, Clemson had an ACC-season-high 11 steals and Blake Wright went 4-for-4 with two homers and three steals. After a 9-5 home win over Charlotte to improve Clemson to 4-0, its struggles began, as it had a 13-14 record in its next 27 games. Those struggles started with three late home losses to UCF and a loss against USC Upstate in Greenville.

No. 23 South Carolina defeated the Tigers twice in three games. Cannarella’s first accolade of the season came in the form of the Bob Bradley Award as Clemson’s MVP of the rivalry series.

The Tigers answered by winning their next six games. After home midweek wins over East Tennessee State and Presbyterian, Amick came off the bench in the opener against Georgia State and hit a two-out grand slam to lift Clemson to a 9-8 win. It was the third walkoff grand slam in Tiger history and Amick’s first career homer. Also in the game, Cannarella and Ingle both had five hits, as they became the first Tiger duo with five hits apiece in a game since 1982. The Tigers went on to sweep the Panthers and then edged College of Charleston 4-3 at home.

Duke won two of three games at Clemson. Just eight days after his first five-hit game, Cannarella had five hits again in the 14-9 win over the Blue Devils. The freshman stepped up again in a midweek win with a three-run walkoff homer to top Winthrop 8-5, then the Tigers rallied to defeat Kennesaw State 6-2 on the road.

The Yellow Jackets’ two-out rally in the series opener in Atlanta downed the Tigers, then the two teams split the remaining two games. Clemson topped College of Charleston in Columbia behind Ethan Darden’s effective start. No. 2 Wake Forest then swept the Tigers at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, including two one-run wins in the final two games with Clemson’s potential tying or winning runs in scoring position.

After a 16-6 seven-inning home win over No. 17 Coastal Carolina, Florida State defeated Clemson in the opener in Tallahassee. The Tigers turned their season around at this point with an 8-1 win in the second game, keyed by a successful hidden-ball trick at third base with one out in the fifth inning when Clemson had a 1-0 lead. Darden also pitched 5.0 scoreless innings in his first career ACC start. In the series finale, Grice pitched 6.1 innings to earn the win and went 2-for-4 with a grand slam in the 6-2 series-clinching victory.

After Clemson topped Georgia 8-1 on the road behind Amick’s two doubles, homer and four RBIs, the Tigers won two of three home games over Notre Dame. Clemson suffered a home setback in Georgia’s 5-4 win when the game ended on a tag at the plate, but the Tigers rebounded with a three-game sweep at NC State. Amick went 4-for-5 with two homers, a double and five RBIs in the opener. In the second game, Grice hit a grand slam with two outs in the eighth inning to lift the Tigers to a 9-7 win.

Clemson concluded April with a 15-5 seven-inning home win over Kennesaw State and two wins in three games at No. 11 Boston College. In the series finale, Grice pitched 8.0 innings, allowing two hits and one earned run with nine strikeouts in the 6-3 victory.

After final exams, Clemson swept No. 22 Louisville at home, as Ammons had two saves and Taylor was 6-for-8 with an .833 on-base percentage in the series, while Gordon and Grice made strong starts.

Clemson went on the road to throttle No. 8 Coastal Carolina 13-6 and sweep Virginia Tech by a combined score of 33-18 with 47 hits, including a 15-4 win behind 20 hits in the opener. Bertram was 6-for-10 with six RBIs and a .733 on-base percentage in the series to lead Clemson, who held on for a dramatic 9-8 win in the second game after scoring five runs in the ninth inning.

The Tigers downed USC Upstate 12-2 in eight innings at home, then they concluded the regular season with a three-game home sweep of North Carolina. In the opener, Wright went 3-for-4 with two homers and five RBIs, then he hit a walkoff single in the second game.

Clemson won the ACC Tournament title at Durham, N.C. with wins over Virginia Tech, No. 19 Boston College, North Carolina and No. 8 Miami (Fla.). In the championship game against the Hurricanes with the Tigers trailing 5-4 in the seventh inning, Bertram keyed an eight-run frame with a three-run homer, his only long ball as a Tiger, to give Clemson the lead for good in its 11-5 victory.

It was Clemson’s first ACC Tourney title since 2016 and 11th overall. The Tigers outscored the opposition 39-15, as Grice earned MVP honors by going 7-for-19 (.368) with two homers, nine RBIs and 7.0 strong innings pitched to earn a win. Bertram, Cannarella and Ingle joined Grice in earning All-ACC Tourney honors.

The Tigers made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019 and hosted for the first time since 2018, as they were the No. 4 national seed. The Tigers, who opened the Clemson Regional with a 12-5 win over Lipscomb, outscored their opponents 19-14 in three games, but lost two one-run contests to end the season, a heartbreaking 6-5 loss in 14 innings to No. 9 Tennessee and a 3-2 loss to Charlotte. Cannarella, Grice, Ingle and Taylor were all named to the Clemson Regional All-Tournament squad.

Three Tigers were selected in the MLB draft after the season. Grice was drafted in the Competitive Balance Round B (No. 64 overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ingle was picked in the fourth round (No. 125 overall) by the Cleveland Guardians and Ammons was chosen in the 10th round (No. 298 overall) by the Boston Red Sox. Blackwell (Texas Rangers) signed a free-agent contract as well.