By Zachary Wagner
When Clemson University broke ground on a brand new softball complex on Feburaury 1, 2019 fans had no idea what kind of ride they would go on in the first year of the Clemson Softball Program. Having gone to every softball game at Clemson Softball Stadium last season, seeing the love and popularity of the team was something I have never seen in sports.
Clemson finished the shortened COVID-19 season with an astounding 19-8 record, and sat atop the ACC Softball standings with a 5-1 record before the ACC suspended play on March 12th.
Clemson Softball Stadium was the place to be during weekends in the spring during the inaugural season. Tiger fans came in flocks to get a look at Clemsons’ newest program. Clemson ranked fourth in the nation in total attendance (24,860) and fifth in the nation in average attendance (1,544) in 16 home games during the 2020 season. The Tigers reecorded a 14-2 record at home.
The ball seemed to carry well at Clemson Softball Stadium for the Tigers, launching 27 homeruns over the course of the 16 home games. In a game on Feb. 15 against Big Ten foe Maryland, Clemson scored 21 runs on 18 hits. During the second inning the Tigers scored 14 runs and became just the sixth team in NCAA Softball history to record two grand slams in a single inning.
Most Clemson fans didn’t know what to think of the team entering the first season of the program. Head Coach John Rittman began piecing the team together when he was named the head coach on November 3, 2017. Rittman began searching for recruits and transfers to build his first team for the Tigers.
Rittman signed his first player on Nov. 8, 2017 as the Georgia 5A pitcher of the year, Logan Caymol signed her National Letter of Intent to play for her dream school. Rittman also picked up transfers from Grace Mattimore (Army West Point), Marissa Guimbarda (Furman), Cammy Pereria (Furman) and MK Bonamy (Notre Dame).
The transfers brought leadership to the team on and off the field during the inaguaral season for the Tigers. On the field, Mattimore, Guimbarda and Bonamy paced the Tiger offense, knocking 14 balls over the fence and driving in 67 runs for the purple and orange.
The Tigers began their season in Orlando, Florida at the University of Central Florida’s Black & Gold Tournament. The Tigers picked up their first ever win in the season opener against St. Johns by a score of 6-2. The Tigers finished the tournament with a 2-3 record, capping off the trip with a 19-9 win on Sunday over St. Johns.
Clemson would open up the home season with a midweek double-header against Western Carolina. The Tigers would drop the first game of the two, 2-0 before getting its first ever win inside of Clemson Softball Stadium in the nightcap, 8-0 in five innings. Freshman pitcher Logan Caymol recorded the Tigers first ever no-hitter, striking out 11 batters in five innings of scoreless softball.
“We’re super excited about getting that win, and what a great atmosphere. Like I said, tonight was just special to be a part of – to be a part of history.” Said Rittman after his first home win for the Tigers.
The ACC/Big Ten tournament was up next for the lady Tigers, sweeping four games in the first ever tournament hosted at Clemson Softball Stadium. Clemson took two games from Maryland and Michigan State each.
The Tigers would hit the road next for its first ever true road game, taking on UNCG. The Tigers five game winning streak would come to an end after a 3-2 defeat.
Rittman and co. would hop on a plan three days later to head to Kissimmee, Florida for the Diamond 9 Tournament. A 3-2 weekend would put the Tigers record 9-7 in the last weekend before ACC play began.
The Tigers biggest win of the season came on Feb. 26th against the 14th ranked Geogria Bulldogs. A 4-1 win was highlighted by freshman Valerie Cagle in the circle, allowing only three hits on the night.
“To get a win against a ranked team as a first-year program is pretty spectacular. I told our team, ‘you know, we can compete with anybody.” Rittman said after his teams first win over a ranked opponent.
Clemson would not lose in its next seven games, opening up ACC play with a weekend sweep over Virginia and then taking both games of a midweek double-header against Charlotte. The Tigers would take two of three against the Pitt Panthers the next weekend before playing their final game of the shortened season, a 5-0 win over Presbyterian College.
When it was all said and done, The Tigers had one of the most prolific offenses in the country in 2020. Marissa Guimbarda was tied for second in the nation with 11 home runs and Valerie Cagle was tied for third with 10. Cagle was also second in the NCAA with 36 RBI’s.
Pitching was also a strong suit for Clemson, posting a 2.77 team ERA on the shortened season. The duo of Caymol and Cagle took over Tiger fans hearts all around. Cagle (9-6) and Caymol (7-2) gave Clemson consistency and domincance in the cirlce all season.
Do not expect Clemson Softball to take a downfall in the coming years. The Tigers return 18 out of 19 players. Both Guimbarda and Cagle return looking to stay hot at the plate and Caymol looks to continue her dominant start to her collegiate career.