By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
Alex Brown remembers watching Clemson's NCAA Division I Super Regional softball game against Oklahoma on television and being impressed.
The Tigers had a big lead, but in the seventh inning the Sooners stormed back to tie the game and won it in the ninth.
"They have something (good) going on (at Clemson). They're so close to breaking down that door," Brown said.
Maybe the former South Effingham standout shortstop can help. After playing two seasons at the University of North Carolina, Brown entered the NCAA transfer portal when Tar Heels Hall of Fame coach Donna Papa retired and her assistant coaches also left.
Brown had a strong resume to woo suitors. She led UNC with a .399 batting average with four home runs and 20 runs batted while earning second-team All-ACC honors.
She was named third team Division I Southeast All-Region by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
But venturing back into the recruiting pool left Brown, a rising junior, more than slightly apprehensive.
"I was scared. I wasn't sure what was going to happen," she said.
But her phone rang off the hook. She went on five official visits. Clemson's inviting softball coaching staff, impressive facilities, and friendly campus captured her heart.
"When I left campus, I was smiling ear to ear," Brown said.
She said 50 of the 52 academic credits she earned at UNC transferred to Clemson and she could jump right into her major – business with a concentration in economics – and graduate on time.
Brown will be playing softball for a young program already making strides against the elite in Division I. Clemson's softball is only six years old, but highly regarded head coach John Rittman (long time head coach at Stanford) had the Tigers (49-12) ranked ninth in the final 2023 USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Coaches poll.
Pitcher Valerie Cagle will return after being named the 2023 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year.
Clemson eliminated North Carolina at the ACC Tournament, but lost the next day to Duke in the semifinals.
The Tigers hosted a regional and held off pesky Auburn in the championship game to advance to the super regional against Oklahoma. They showed their mettle against the Sooners and rallied to lead 7-4 in the seventh inning before a dramatic home run tied the game.
"I'm looking forward to playing for Clemson," Brown said. "I'm listed as a utility player, but they like me as an infielder. I can play where they need me."
Brown continued to sharpen her softball skills this summer playing in the collegiate Florida Gulf Coast League. Her Manatee Impact squad won the league title July 14 with a 9-5 victory over the Manatee Squeeze.
Now college softball awaits. The ACC softball schedule hasn't been announced yet, but Brown said the Tigers most likely will be hosting North Carolina next spring.
Does she expect to be brushed off the plate with a high and inside pitch by her former teammates?
"I don't think so, I still have a lot of friends there," Brown said. "It'll be an interesting game."