THIS IS THE scariest of Clemson baseball teams: frighteningly good to begin the season, terrifyingly awful for a 23-game stretch, and now in position to strike fear into any opponent in the postseason.
It is enough to drive a coach and fans mad, which is what happened this past weekend at Clemson when Jack Leggett got into a finger-wagging episode with a Tigers fan.
"Old news," is the way Leggett described the incident Thursday. The fan went on talk radio to offer Leggett an apology. While Leggett offered none in return, he probably could be excused for letting a frustrating season catch up with him.
Interestingly enough, the tete-a-tete came during what could prove to be the most pivotal game of Clemson's season. The Tigers twice rallied from two runs down to defeat Florida Gulf Coast in the kind of game that had slipped away during a stretch when Clemson lost eight of 11 and 15 of 23.
"That was a huge game for us," Leggett said. "That might have been the one that kicked us into gear."
If Clemson can find the gear that propelled it to a 17-2 start, look out. Because, despite losing two of three to lowly Duke and another pair to Elon, Clemson remains in position to host an NCAA regional tournament.
The Tigers are 28-17, a so-so record by Clemson standards. But they rank 25th in the USA Today coaches poll, possess the second-most difficult schedule in the land and carry a No. 13 RPI. Plus, Clemson's next six conference games are against the league's two bottom-feeders, Maryland and Wake Forest.
Three games behind first-place Florida State in the ACC's Atlantic Division, Clemson could position itself for a showdown with the Seminoles the final weekend of the regular season.
That is enough to make any Clemson follower scratch his head, like Leggett has done all season. The fans know it, and he knows it: This team is an enigma.
Clemson is a decent hitting team with a .304 average and 59 home runs through 45 games. In Casey Harman and Scott Weismann, Clemson has pitchers who provide consistent quality starts.
Clemson's earned run average of 4.56 tells of an inconsistent bullpen with a closer by committee. Defense was an issue when Clemson made 50 errors in its first 25 games. Since then, the Tigers have made 19 miscues in 20 games.
None of those numbers speaks to a bad baseball team or explains how Clemson at one point lost 12 consecutive games decided by two runs or fewer.
"We had a lot of one-run games and couldn't find a way to get over the hump with them," Leggett said. "We had so little margin for error that any mistake we made came back to cost us a run, and that run cost us an opportunity to win a ballgame."
What that streak of misfortune also did was sap Clemson of its confidence. At least that is the way Leggett sees it. So Leggett has gone about trying to infuse confidence in his players, even if it has meant defending his team by standing up to a fan.
Leggett said he believes in this team. It is talented. For whatever reason, though, it has not been able to hit on all cylinders. Clemson cannot seem to get solid pitching, hitting and defense over a stretch of games.
"We've just got to get them to relax, get their confidence back and let them know we all believe in them and they've got to believe in themselves," Leggett said.
Leggett said he and his coaching staff have played out every scenario for the team. There is one story Leggett has told that might best resonate with his club. It is about the 2008 Fresno State club that was considered a College World Series-caliber team in the preseason.
Fresno State was anything but as it stumbled to an 8-12 start and stood at 31-27 late in the season. It needed a Western Athletic Conference tournament championship to qualify for the NCAA tournament, where it was relegated to a fourth seed.
Three weeks later, Fresno State was the most unlikely of national champions.
No one in their right mind believes Clemson is capable of winning the national title, or even reaching the College World Series. But there is every reason to believe -- with a strong finish -- that the Tigers could be a scary team to face in the NCAA tournament.