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Clemson returns to diamond, ‘hungry’ to live up to high expectations

Aralynn Minnick // Asst. Photo Editor

Softball celebrates after a grand slam last season against Akron.

Ranked No. 10 in ESPN’s preseason poll, Clemson softball is set for its first matchup this weekend, and fans can expect another standout season from the program.

Finishing last year 42-17 (14-10 ACC), the Tigers advanced all the way to the NCAA Super Regional round following their conference championship game appearance. Despite coming up short in Super Regionals, the program is packed with an award-winning, experienced and expectant team, creating the motivation to have another dominating season.

Returning star pitcher and utility player Valerie Cagle has received multiple preseason honors this year. The redshirt junior was named a first-team All-American in 2022 and is a two-time first-team All-ACC selection. She was most recently selected as an All-ACC Preseason team player in January.

Cagle, listed among the USA Softball Collegiate Players’ Top 50 watch list, shines on both sides of the plate. She currently holds 40 career home runs and held a .308 batting average in 2022. As for her work as a pitcher, Cagle has also pitched for a 1.62 career ERA in 467 innings in the circle.

McKenzie Clark and Alia Logoleo are two returning Tigers also named to the All-ACC Preseason team. Clark led the Tigers in 2022 with her .328 batting average, on top of 42 runs. The junior outfielder was also honored with second-team All-ACC at the end of last season.

Logoleo, a redshirt junior, is another batter to keep an eye on this season. Posting a team-high 15 home runs for 2022, the Nashville, Tennessee, native racked up a .585 slugging percentage along with 46 RBIs. 

The program is still in its infant years, as it was inaugurated in 2020, yet it accomplished a conference title in 2021. 

With head coach John Rittman on a contract through 2027, he is looking forward to working with a “more mature” team.

“I think we have a group that’s hungry to go farther than we did last year,” Rittman said in a post-scrimmage press conference on Saturday. “Our pitching staff and everybody’s back, and we’re a year better, a year more mature, offensively.”

Rittman is welcoming one freshman and four transfers to Clemson this spring. Sporting a roster of 20 returners, whom Rittman describes as the team’s many “leaders,” the Tigers’ experience will give them an upper hand this season. 

Already listed as a top team in the country, the program has the incentive to take home another title in 2023.

Set to take on conference opponents like Florida State, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Tigers will have to assess their previous games against these teams in order to secure a victory. With a mixed record between these three teams and the Tigers, it will come down to game-time performances for Clemson to maintain its top rankings.

Florida State, Duke and Virginia Tech were also listed on ESPN’s Top 25 list, with Florida State taking the highest slot of the ranked ACC teams at No. 4, while Duke and Virginia Tech are slotted at No. 19 and No. 11, respectively. Clemson was also ranked No. 10 in the USA Today Sports AFCA coaches poll and grabbed the No. 9 slot on D1 Softball.

High expectations are abound for the Clemson softball team. But for Rittman, he and his team believe “to deal with expectations (means) to work hard and be prepared.” 

The fourth-year head coach says his team’s dedication to the field, as well as the classroom, is what allows them to “tune out the noise” and focus on performance improvement.

The Tigers will begin their season this weekend at the FIU tournament in Miami, Florida, but will return to McWhorter Stadium for their home opener Friday, Feb. 17, for the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. 

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Kiley Bouchard, Senior Reporter
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