A Lack of Time and Luck: A Commentary on 2024 Clemson Softball

Another year of Clemson Softball is now in the books. What will be said of this 2024 campaign? With all of the successes the young program continues to enjoy, it is hard to justifiably figure out exactly what happened to end the 2024 Clemson Softball team’s journey. You might say you have to look past only the numbers to figure out the answer.

As well documented as any program might be, outside of maybe the three-time defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners, this year’s Tiger team was meant to be one for the record books. To be clear, it still was (with the accolades still rolling in) – just not in the ways most were imagining. Claiming themselves knowingly to be the “hunted” and no longer the “hunter,” the Clemson Softball program was digging for gold in the form of a trip to their first Women’s College World Series – albeit in only it’s fifth full year of existence.

A lot of those expectations and pressures were self-induced to begin with: ask any of the 10 seniors on this team what they wanted to accomplish this season, and they’d tell you the same. National softball media would take those self-imposed expectations and run with them – penciling Clemson in as one of eight national seeds heading into the 2024 postseason, and giving them a guaranteed spot in the WCWS. Only thing left to do? Meet those expectations.

The story of what happened for the Clemson Tigers has been written. With an increase in ERA and errors, and a decrease in batting average and RBIs from year to year, the statistics seem to tell the whole story. The problem, though, is that these differences were miniscule. Not so small to go unnoticed, but not enough to waver in confidence.

Fielding %.980.960

The question, then, is what really haunted this year’s team? Was it not capitalizing on the big hitting moments? Could it have been the drop off in production of one Valerie Cagle? Was it the absence of Cagle in a key stretch of the season? For the team as a whole, was it the drop off in defensive execution, especially in key spots through multiple contests? One could argue it was a combination of these things that led to the abrupt ending to the once hopeful 2024 campaign.

What makes games on the diamond so intriguing, however – the things that bring us back for more, no matter the ebbs and flows of our favorite team’s successes or failures – is just that: the hope of it all. The anticipation every contest brings. What is going to happen next? One pitch at a time, one swing at a time, one moment at a time. How will the ball roll? How might something routine turn into something more? A lot could be said about skill and talent – a team doesn’t just “luck” its way into four straight regional appearances, three hosted regionals, two super regional appearances, and a national player of the year (among many other accolades and firsts to be passed around). Even still, it does take some of that thing called luck in this sport. That seemed to be something these Tigers just didn’t have a lot of this year.

Take the game against Tennessee, when a ball would roll a weird way to give the Vols a late run to steal a game seemingly from Clemson’s hands at home. Or the game against Georgia, where 13 runners left on base came as the result of lots of key hits being executed – just directly to the Bulldog defense. Duke’s late stolen base in game two of that series, Furman’s oddly-bounced ball on a base hit to first base that couldn’t be fielded to score two decisive runs, with many others that come to mind. Or the long stretch of season where injured players like Cagle, Lindsey Garcia, Julia Knowler, among others, were missed greatly. This game is more than just X’s and O’s, talent and execution. It is also everything falling the right way at the right times – and for this young Clemson Softball program in 2024, it just didn’t fall their way the way it had the years before.

What this publication will not do, however, is overlook the incredible run the senior class took this program on in its short five-year infancy. With everything considered, the truth of the matter remains that moving a brand new program into the upper echelon of the national softball picture is no small feat. Coach John Rittman has now written the book on how to make that happen, and it would be amiss to think that this version of Clemson Softball is over and gone. Rittman has players like Maddie Moore, Alex Brown, Aby Viera, Brooke McCubbin, Julia Knowler, and Kylee Johnson all returning. Couple those core pieces with an influx of a top-tier freshman class and key talented transfers to fill some positional needs, the sky could continue to be the limit for 2025 and beyond.

And who knows? Maybe the weight of expectations falling off of the shoulders of these Tigers might do them (and us) all some good. And maybe – just maybe – bring a little luck with them along the way.

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