Six months after his cancer went into remission, Clemson's Clate Schmidt pitched the five most meaningful innings of his life.
Schmidt threw 77 pitches and earned the win over Maine on Saturday in an outing bridging his comeback from illness to his role as senior leader for new coach Monte Lee.
"For me, it was tunnel vision," Schmidt said. "When opening weekend came, I wanted to be on the mound. That's the thing that has driven me since I was first diagnosed."
Schmidt worked 52 innings mostly as a reliever in 2015 but always felt fatigued. He underwent a series of tests after he felt a lump on his neck last winter, and doctors told him at the end of the season that he had Stage 2 nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma.
Four rounds of chemotherapy were followed by 17 radiation treatments. By August, he was declared cancer-free.
"I had no stamina coming out of treatment," he said. "I honestly was 50 percent, maybe. It was extremely tough, especially conditioning and running."
Schmidt, from Acworth, Georgia, was pushed hard by Clemson's strength staff and his teammates over the fall and winter, and he locked down the Saturday starter's job. He allowed four runs and eight hits, walked one and struck out five in a 9-4 win over Maine.
"I thought I did extremely well attacking the zone, and I had only 25 balls out of 77 pitches, so I was pretty excited about that," he said.
"The four earned runs, I was kind of disappointed in that just for the simple fact of being a competitor and I know I'm better than that. Once it gets deeper into the season, I'm going to be better."
Schmidt's fastball has lost a little velocity; he's now throwing 88-90 mph. Chicago Cubs starter Jon Lester, who overcame cancer, met with Schmidt last summer and told him what he could expect during every step of his return to baseball.
Schmidt, in turn, reached out to University of Pittsburgh star football player James Conner, who announced in December he had Hodgkin's lymphoma. The two talk almost every day, and Schmidt said he's trying to arrange for Conner to visit Clemson to throw out a first pitch.
"I try to tell everyone, no matter how young or old you are, please, if you feel something strange or a foreign, a lump, don't be scared to put it off and get it checked," Schmidt said. "As scary as the news might be, it's better than the alternative of waiting it out and then letting it get to the point where you can't beat it."
A look around the country:
GATORS SWEEP: Consensus No. 1 team Florida swept three games from Florida Gulf Coast by a combined score of 24-9. The Gators batted .330 in the series and their pitchers compiled a 1.67 ERA with 35 strikeouts and five walks.
STRUGGLING SOONER: Projected high first-round draft pick Alec Hansen of Oklahoma struggled Saturday, lasting little more than an inning against Northeastern. Hansen walked four, hit a batter and allowed one hit while giving up three runs in a 5-3 loss. The teams split the four-game series, with Northeastern beating a Big 12 opponent for the first time.
FEAR THE FIGHTING HAWKS: Alabama better not overlook North Dakota when the Fighting Hawks visit Tuscaloosa this week. North Dakota took two of three at then-No. 12 Southern California, with the Trojans having to come from behind in the bottom of the ninth Sunday to get their win. On Friday, left-hander Zach Muckenhirn threw a three-hitter in a 1-0 win, North Dakota's first over a ranked opponent.
CHAMPS WIN 2 of 3: Defending national champion Virginia issued five of its seven walks in the last two innings Sunday in a 5-4 loss to Coastal Carolina. The Cavaliers opened with wins over Kent State and Appalachian State. Virginia starters Connor Jones, Daniel Lynch and Tommy Dole allowed two runs over 18 innings.
BEST START SINCE '09: Big Ten favorite Michigan is 4-0 for the first time since 2009 after sweeping Canisius in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Wolverines outscored Canisius 27-5, allowing one run in the four games.
This version corrects Schmidt's illness to nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma.