Four years ago, Clemson softball didn’t have a facility or coaching staff.
On Sunday, the Tigers captured the ACC regular-season championship — the first softball championship in school history — in only their second season of competition. Their 19-2 run-rule win against Syracuse sealed the crown, edging out Florida State for the title based off win percentage.
Coach John Rittman came to the Upstate because he believe he could form a championship-winning program at Clemson. The plan’s obviously worked as the Tigers are ranked No. 11 in the country in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. Before falling in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday afternoon, Clemson was on a 19-game win streak, the longest winning streak by any women’s program in school history.
Clemson’s softball hasn’t even played 75 games in its history, but the program has now won a regular-season championship. With Sunday’s win, Clemson is 40-5 overall and 29-5 in ACC play. The Tigers’ attention now shifts to the ACC Tournament, held later this week in Louisville, Ky.
“When you build a program there’s no laid-out plan of exactly how to do it,” Ritttman said earlier this season. “There’s no blueprint. Our main objective was to start with the foundation of building a really good culture and implementing our core values and not worrying about the wins and losses but worrying about building a solid foundation. With that has come the early success with our program.”
A lot of Clemson’s success this season has come from two-way player Valerie Cagle. The team’s ace and utility player was named a USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year finalist earlier this week. Rittman’s also had success recruiting player straight out of high school who have are contributing right away, including McKenzie Clark, Morgan Johnson, Abi Stuart, JoJo Hyatt, Arielle Oda, Alia Logoleo and Kyah Keller.
But Rittman’s ultimate goal is to have success in the NCAA Tournament. With a strong regular season, the Tigers will likely have favorable seeding in the tournament, which begins on May 21.
To have so much success early was unexpected. Sunday’s championship was just the start, though. Rittman and Clemson now could finish off the original blueprint in only their second-season of competition.