Heading into Year 4, Clemson has already built a powerhouse

Heading into Year 4, Clemson has already built a powerhouse

A recounted reaction to Clemson’s athletic brass announcing the launch of its softball program in March 2017 may best encapsulate both the initial responses and the challenge of launching a team from scratch.

“I can’t believe an ACC school of this caliber didn’t have (softball) before now, but I understand that, too,” Enka (N.C.) High coach Jennifer Kruk. he said Independent Mail. “It’s going to cost a pretty penny to build a stadium and do everything the right way.”

Heading into the program’s fourth season, it’s safe to say Clemson has built softball the right way.

McWhorter Stadium opened in 2020 and was named in 2021, thanks to a $2.5 million pledge from Stuart and Leigh Anne McWhorter. And with a stadium built, coach John Rittman built a roster that has quickly become one of the nation’s best.

The Tigers embark on the 2023 campaign after a 42-win 2022 that ended in the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament. Clemson eventually fell to No. 7 overall seed Oklahoma State, but not before knocking off each of UNC Wilmington, Louisiana and No. 17 Auburn in the regional round.

That goose-egg winning streak came the same month Clemson beat No. 19 Notre Dame and No. 2 Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament, reaching the conference championship game where the Tigers fell to the third-ranked Florida State at 8-6. .

While the ACC Championship was one of Clemson’s 17 losses in 2022, it perhaps best reflects the qualities that make the Tigers a contender for a historic first-ever Women’s World Series berth in 2023.

Clemson bounced back from giving up three first-inning runs to Florida State, the 2021 national runner-up and a program with more ACC tournament titles in the years since Clemson announced the start of softball (four) than the Tigers’ total seasons.

“To put the winning run on the plate [in the seventh inning] it says a lot about our program,” Rittman said after the loss. “A lot of heart, a lot of character, and that will bode well for us as we head into the next chapter of our season.”

Not only the next chapter of the 2022 season, but also the book the Tigers will write in 2023.

With Rittman at the helm, Clemson went 19-8 in its inaugural campaign, which was canceled due to COVID-19, 44-8 with the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 2021, and 42-17 with the Tigers’ first Super Regional. appearance

Many of the players responsible for those first schools are back in 2023, laying the groundwork for Clemson’s quest for a first trip to Oklahoma City.

At the heart of the Tigers’ potential for the upcoming campaign is one of the early recruits, Valerie Cagle.

Cagle earned All-American recognition in 2022 after hitting .308 with 13 home runs and 44 runs, each of which ranked second on the team, and dominated as the team’s pitching ace. Cagle accumulated a 1.92 ERA with 176 strikeouts.

Cagle is a mainstay of Clemson softball even though she almost never wears the orange and purple. He initially committed to Delaware, but through a sequence of workout moves detailed in the Greenville NewsCagle’s recruitment opened up again and landed her at Clemson.

“The vision that the coaching staff was presenting was exactly what I wanted,” Cagle he told The Tiger last February. “Also, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of Clemson softball’s inaugural season.”

With Cagle in the starting class of 2020, the Tigers’ coaching staff continued to add key contributions in the following years. The 2021 class welcomed top 20 national recruit McKenzie Clark, an outfielder from Florida.

All Clark did in two seasons as a Tiger was hit .355 in 169 plate appearances as a freshman, then hit .328 in 180 at-bats as a sophomore. He doubled his home run production from 2021 to 2022, from six to 12, and drove in 34 runs.

Clark also has a cannon arm.

Both Cagle and Clark appear in the top 50 D1Softball Preseason Top 100 Rankings at No. 17 and 48. Cagle’s teammate in a dominant starting pitching tandem, Millie Thompson, was ranked No. 69 in D1Softball’s countdown.

Thompson arrived in the same 2021 class as Clark and made a similar and immediate impact with a 9-1 mark as a freshman. Thompson boasted the ACC’s second-best 1.58 ERA, good for 19th nationally. Fellow ’21 prospect Regan Spencer ranked fifth nationally with a 1.07 ERA, primarily pitching in relief.

And that’s just a sampling of the playmakers in the fold of an impressive third year of the program. Clemson has many more historic moments ahead, starting immediately in Year 4.

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