ACC Roundup: ‘Gutsy’ Schmidt Leads Tigers

DURHAM, N.C.—Clate Schmidt just grinned and shook his head, staring straight into the news cameras, as his head coach, Monte Lee, tried to explain to the media that Schmidt “was maybe running out of gas a little bit.”

Schmidt had just thrown 8 2/3 innings and 126 pitches in a 5-3 ACC Baseball Championship win against Louisville on Friday. The senior Clemson righthander had tried to finish off his first career complete game, but when two Cardinals runners reached and projected top 10 pick Corey Ray stepped to the plate, Lee had to make a move.

Schmidt wasn’t thrilled.

“He wanted to stay out there for the whole game, but the pitch count was getting up there,” Lee said. “You know, I thought he was maybe running out of gas a little bit. He would argue that he wasn’t. But that’s because he is a great competitor. That’s just the competitor that he is. He doesn’t like it when I take him out of the game.”

“Competitor” is as accurate a word as any to describe Schmidt, who returned to the mound this spring after being diagnosed with nodular sclerosis, a treatable form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, last May. Schmidt was given a clean bill of health months later in September, and since then—fortunately—the only battles he’s had to fight have come on a baseball field.

It has been an up-and-down year for Schmidt on the mound, as he’s gone 8-4, 4.32 starting on various days in the weekend rotation. There have been moments of excellence, like his scoreless, one-hit, 5 1/3 inning outing against rival South Carolina on March 5. There have also been much lower points, like his 10-hit, five-run, 2 1/3-inning outing on April 15 against the same Louisville team he pitched against on Friday.

But signs point to Schmidt trending up. On Friday, the righthander touched 92 mph with his fastball and mostly held his 88-91 mph velocity deep into the game, using a low 80s changeup with depth and fade and a mid-80s slider. Schmidt’s stuff was noticeably firmer than it had been earlier in the spring, when he sat in the mid- to-high 80s. There’s a reason for it.

After his April 15 loss against Louisville, Schmidt and pitching coach Andrew See tinkered with his mechanics to work more rotational action into his delivery. The result was a jump in fastball velocity, closer to what it was in the beginning of Schmidt’s Clemson career.

Since then, Schmidt has had some of the best starts of his season, including a one-run, 3-hit, 8 1/3-inning outing against Notre Dame just before the ACC tournament. The extra life on his fastball, Schmidt said, gives him an extra layer of confidence on the mound.

“With velo you can get away with some mistakes here and there,” Schmidt said. “I was fortunate enough today to be able to make pitches with the extra velo that I’ve gained, and those mechanical changes have really allowed me to kind of get back into—I’m a rotational kind of guy—and I like to be able to rotate in my pitching motion and just be able to feel more comfortable out there.

“I think being comfortable makes you such a better baseball player, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to produce for those guys these past couple outings.”

Schmidt gave up three runs (two earned) on eight hits against Louisville on Friday, striking out six and walking one. Most of the damage came against him early. He didn’t allow a run after the fourth inning, settling down as Clemson went on a home run barrage to support him offensively. Left fielder Reed Rohlman homered twice after not homering all season, as did ACC player of the year Seth Beer, who hit his Clemson freshman record 16th home run of the season. Weston Wilson joined the home run party as well.

Louisville first baseman Danny Rosenbaum said Schmidt’s stuff seemed “a little more explosive” compared to the last time the Cardinals faced him a month ago. Stuff aside, Lee said he was most impressed with Schmidt’s moxie. The senior has stepped up in big moments this season, and he’ll likely need to continue that for the Tigers to make a deep run into the postseason.

“I just can’t tell you how proud I am for him,” Lee said. “It will go down in my mind as one of the more gutsy performances I’ve seen out of a starting pitcher. (They) scored some runs early and he held them at bay and found a way to get deep into the ballgame. Got into the ninth inning, and against a really good offense.

“Just can’t say enough about him and his toughness and competitiveness.”

Demon Deacons In Driver’s Seat

The Wake Forest players are well aware of the outside perception of their team. Certainly, junior slugger Will Craig is. Craig has said before that the Demon Deacons play with a little something to prove. Some point to a thin pitching staff as a reason the Demon Deacons can’t win; others point to the home-field advantage of playing in a ballpark conducive to hitting.

None of that mattered Friday. No. 10 Wake Forest’s explosive offense slugged five home runs—including Craig’s 16th of the year—on a neutral field and overcame an early four-run deficit to deal No. 3 Virginia its second loss of the tournament.

At 1-1 in pool play, Wake Forest will have a chance to sneak into the championship game when the Deacs play 2-0 Clemson on Saturday morning.

“Definitely today was a big win for us—puts us in a great spot for tomorrow against Clemson,” Craig said. “A lot of guys, a lot of teams and people probably were saying that we didn’t deserve to get in (over) someone like (North Carolina) or someone like that. Just kind of proves—it shows them that we deserve to be here and we want to be here. It’s not kind of like we are happy to win a play-in game.”

Even if the Demon Deacons don’t beat Clemson on Saturday and don’t win an ACC championship, Friday’s win seemingly seals the deal on Wake Forest getting its first at-large bid since 2007. The Deacons were on the bubble heading into the ACC tournament, but at 34-24 and with a No. 22 RPI, according to, they seem all but a lock for the NCAA tournament.

“Certainly no guarantees, as we have all been there before, and it can go either way,” said Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter. “And a lot depends on what happens in some of these other tournaments and what’s going on.

“Certainly, I think our league is good enough and deep enough that we should carry more teams than we’ve ever carried. We’ve got the No. 1 league in the country for a reason. We have got 11 teams in the top 35 or so in the RPI.

“I’m hoping we carry a bunch and our name is called.” 

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