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Clemson reunion between old Tigers assistants Bakich and Florida's O'Sullivan at NCAA super regional

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — It's a Clemson reunion 22 years in the making at the NCAA super regionals this weekend.

Tigers coach Erik Bakich and Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan are facing each other for a spot in the College World Series after helping one of Clemson's most successful teams get to Omaha in 2002.

And their boss at the time, Jack Leggett, remains in the Tigers' dugout as an assistant in staff, program and player development for Bakich.

“I've never been electrocuted,” Bakich joked Friday. “Except for when (Leggett) comes around every day and it's like a bolt of lightning.”

The best-of-three series between the Tigers (44-14) and the Gators (32-28) begins Saturday.

Leggett's name and No. 7 — his nickname is “Sev” — are on the center-field wall at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. He's out hitting grounders during warmups and near the top of the dugout handing out encouragement and answering questions.

“Programs don't have a guy like Seven," Tigers right-hander Austin Gordon said. “To be able to have him, it means a lot to all of us.”

Leggett's eye for coaching talent has meant a lot to college baseball. His 2002 staff of Bakich, O'Sullivan and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin have combined for 14 College World Series appearances since 2008.

Corbin won it all twice in 2014 and 2019, the last time beating Bakich's Michigan team in the finals. O'Sullivan took the title with the Gators in 2017.

The trio showed its stuff in 2002, with Clemson winning 54 games (tied for third in program history) and advancing to Omaha with the national player of the year in shortstop Khalil Greene.

Bakich recalled feeling that even then, in his first college coaching job at 24, it was the perfect spot because he was surrounded by talented, knowledgeable leaders.

“It was instantly recognizable that I was sharing an office with two assistant coaches who were going to go off to be outstanding, Hall of Fame coaches as well,” Bakich said.

Bakich was a volunteer assistant who was hitting coach in 2002. O'Sullivan came on as the Tigers' pitching coach in 1999 and over nine seasons was part of teams in 2000, 2002 and 2006 that made the College World Series.

O'Sullivan called it surreal to be back at Clemson because his last game as an assistant before taking the Florida job came in 2008. He spoke with Leggett briefly and, when asked if his former boss shared any “inside baseball” secrets for this matchup, joked, “I can't even get him to go out to dinner.”

O'Sullivan said Leggett took a chance on someone without a lot of coaching experience when the two got together in 1999.

“He's meant everything to me,” he said.

Leggett won 955 games in 22 seasons, making the NCAA Tournament in every season but one (2008). Clemson has not hosted a super regional or reached the CWS since Leggett last did both in 2010.

When Bakich was hired in 2023, he knew immediately he wanted Leggett back with the Tigers. Leggett, 70, serves as sort of a coaching emeritus position and happily drives about an hour each day to help prepare the team.

“I've always felt my biggest strength was dealing with people and being able to relate with people,” Leggett said. “I'm a little older than these kids, but I feel like I'm their age. I think they feel the same way.”

Leggett has worked just as hard at staying out of Bakich's way, understanding the team is no longer his to run.

Leggett said he called Bakich several times after the 2023 season to say he'd be available again this season. When Bakich finally picked up, he told Leggett, “I was sure you'd tell me you're going to the transfer portal.”

“I'm not going anywhere else,” Leggett said. “It's exciting to me and keeps me young.”

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports