MYRTLE BEACH — After giving one game away in the ninth inning Sunday, the Coastal Carolina baseball team almost atoned later in the evening with its own decisive final surge.
Instead, though, the Chanticleers just had a different kind of disappointment to deal with on a weekend that did not go according to any plan the team might have had in mind.
After having its games rained out both Friday and Saturday, Coastal took two losses on the final day of the Caravelle Resort Tournament, falling 8-2 to No. 11-ranked Kentucky and 8-7 to Elon in a doubleheader at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark.
“We’ve got so many new players right now, we’re trying to really learn how to compete, how to win,” Coastal coach Gary Gilmore said. “They’re all trying to find confidence. Our team batting average must be .150. It’s a struggle right now mentally for some of them.”
Nonetheless, the Chants (3-3) had their chances.
They were locked in a duel with the ranked Wildcats entering the ninth inning before letting the game get away.
Coastal had tied the score at 2 on a clutch two-out RBI single in the bottom of the fifth by junior Colin Hering, and that’s how it stayed until normally-steady senior reliever Ryan Connolly ran into trouble to start the ninth.
After already pitching 32/3 scoreless innings, the submarine-style right-hander gave up a leadoff single to Matt Reida and then plunked Michael Thomas with a pitch before being pulled from the game. Sophomore lefty Austin Kerr came in and gave up an infield single to Austin Cousino to load the bases before quickly being swapped out for freshman righty Seth Lamando. And he was promptly welcomed to the mound by Lucas Witt, who lined a double to left field to drive in all three baserunners.
The Wildcats (5-1) ended up scoring six runs in the inning and put the Chants away quietly in the bottom of the ninth.
Sophomore lefty Ben Smith took a no-decision for Coastal after allowing two runs (one earned), five hits and two walks over 41/3 innings. Senior Ted Blackman hit a solo homer in the loss and he and Hering collected two hits each while the team as a whole committed five errors and left 10 runners on base.
In the Chants’ second game of the day, they rewarded the loyal fans who had struck around with a little ninth-inning outburst of their own, but again the outcome would prove unsatisfying.
Coastal had built an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second, but Elon (4-3) quickly erased that advantaged while scoring eight straight runs over the next five innings. The Phoenix got four of those runs in the top of the third – all with two outs – on an RBI single up the middle by Alex Swim and a three-run homer to left-center by Ryan Kinsella. It was Kinsella’s third homer of the tournament.
The Elon lead swelled to 8-2 before Coastal crossed the plate again, but the Chants put plenty of suspense into the game while scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth.
The rally got going with a two-run double down the third-base line by senior Josh Powell, a similar-looking RBI double by freshman Nick Oberg and an Elon throwing error on junior Jake Kane’s fielder’s choice grounder to second that allowed another run to score, suddenly making it an 8-6 game with one out.
Phoenix closer Nate Young, who had entered the game before Kane’s at-bat, then walked sophomore Luke Willis on a full-count pitch to load the bases with one out, and Hering delivered a sac fly liner to right to make it 8-7. Off the bat, it looked like the ball might carry to the fence, but Hering said he knew right away he had hit it off the end of the bat.
“I wanted that walk-off more than anything, but I just got it off the end a little bit. Didn’t hit it hard enough,” he said.
The suspense peaked when Blackman drew a walk to load the bases again with two outs and bring up freshman Connor Owings with the game on the line, but the rookie struck out on a 2-2 pitch to end the threat and the Chants’ day.
“I think the biggest thing to take away is right there in the bottom half of the ninth inning – a lot of heart,” Hering said. “For the first time this year I think we really came out and competed our [butt] off and that’s how we need to play all the time. I think we’ll be a good team if we do that.”
Hering was 1-for-4 to finish the day with three hits and two RBIs, while Owings went 2-for-3 against Elon. Freshman Alex Cunningham (0-1) took the loss for Coastal, giving up six earned runs, five hits and three walks in 31/3 innings.
Gilmore reiterated afterward that his young team is still a ways away from being what it can be.
“It’s frustrating. We’re going to have to win at the end for us to be a regional contender type team. It’s still like a tryout camp out here. I could run almost completely different lineups out there all time,” he said.
“This learning how to compete thing is probably going to be the biggest part, and so much of it is confidence. If you have an older team, they have a little bit of swagger about them that younger teams are searching for. They haven’t earned that at this point. If we get to a point hopefully somewhere along the way where we’re good enough to get a little confidence and momentum going, I think this team will grow and be fairly decent before it’s over with.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.