The last time Ray Tanner spoke publicly, he wasn’t feeling good about his relationship with Clemson coach Jack Leggett.
The USC baseball coach, who had decried the “shenanigans” that sidetracked a heated series won by the Gamecocks, was more upbeat in his Thursday media session after sharing an extended phone conversation Wednesday initiated by Leggett, who was hoping to cool tensions that had developed during the three games.
Tanner appreciated the call.
“We left that game Tuesday probably not in the best way possible,” Tanner said. “The fact that he picked up the phone and called was a good thing. We’ve known each other for a long time, not just in the 15 years I’ve been here and the 17 years he’s been at Clemson. We played against each other when he was at Western (Carolina) and I was at N.C. State. So we go back a long way.”
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More than that, Tanner welcomed the opportunity for them to be candid with each other and repair any damage that might have been done to their relationship as well as the one between the programs.
“I think that was important that we were able to share some things with each other and move past it. We’re competitors, and you don’t have to agree on everything, but you’d like to respect each other,” Tanner said. “So we cleared the air, and (I) said, ‘Hey, let’s go, good luck to you,’ and he said good luck to us.”
Despite all the added drama, Tanner, whose 2010 team knocked Clemson out of the College World Series on the way to the national championship, would be ready to play the Tigers again in the postseason.
“Hopefully, we get a chance to play at the end of the year, and if we get a chance to play again, (that’s) great,” he said.
Tanner liked how his team handled the pressure of the Clemson series, which featured three intense games between a pair of top-10 programs. No. 4 USC won its games 6-3 and 5-4, while No. 10 Clemson won the middle game 10-5.
“You’re going to be in a lot of those in the SEC, and they’re going to be in a lot of those in the ACC. Those games help you grow and help you understand where you are,” he said.
Tanner also believes his team came together through the controversy. While he usually runs the team meetings, Tanner said the players took over Monday and discussed the situation. He liked doing the listening, and he got a kick out of the humor they brought to the situation.
“For me, it was a good sign they were having fun despite the intensity part of it,” he said. “Maybe down the road, that will make a difference. You’re going to win your share and lose your share, and a lot of games will be in the balance. Maybe that bond will be there during the critical part of our schedule.”
Junior left-hander Steven Neff will get another start Saturday, but it will be his first on the weekend this season. He started last week in a win against Furman. Tanner said the coaches wanted to give Neff another opportunity.
Since Adam Westmoreland pitched Tuesday against Clemson, he will not start a game against Cal State Bakersfield. Either Tyler Webb, who had been the Saturday starter, or freshman Forrest Koumas will start Sunday. Koumas, a hard-throwing right-hander, impressed the coaches with a strong relief stint Tuesday to pick up the win against the Tigers.
Tanner loves having plenty of options.
“I hope that I have a problem going forward about who our guys are,” he said.
Jake Williams, a junior transfer from Wofford, has forced himself into the outfield equation with Jackie Bradley, Adam Matthews and Evan Marzilli. He’s batting .450 (9-for-20) with eight RBIs, and he hit a three-run homer to help defeat Clemson on Tuesday.
“Jake’s had some opportunities and he’s done well. So he needs more opportunity,” Tanner said.
The Bakersfield Boys
Credit USC assistant coach Sammy Esposito for getting Cal State Bakersfield on the schedule. Esposito coordinates the scheduling, and he once coached with CSUB coach Bill Kernen at N.C. State. Tanner noted that many out-of-conference games are scheduled because of personal relationships between coaches
Michael Roth, Christian Walker