MYRTLE BEACH It took a challenging year away from competition, two knee surgeries and a tough personal decision to get to this point, but Coastal Carolina right-hander Tyler Poole showed Friday night why he was such a coveted prospect in the first place.
The former two-sport standout who left the Chanticleers basketball program without ever playing a game following two surgeries to repair a torn meniscus, made his second career start on the mound and picked up his first win while pitching Coastal to a 4-1 victory over Florida Atlantic on the second day of action at the Caravelle Resort Baseball at the Beach tournament.
Poole gave up one run and six hits over 5 1/3 innings while striking out four and walking one in his home debut inside TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark to help the Chants snap out of their recent rut.
“I wanted to come out with a good mentality, go out there and do what I do,” Poole said. “I had good fielding behind me -- couldn’t ask for more. The split-finger was on, fastball was on, location was good. I felt good. It feels good to be back.”
That goes for both the pitcher and the team.
Coastal (4-4) was mired in its first three-game losing streak since March of 2011 and was facing the reigning Sun Belt Conference regular-season champion with two more tough tests set to follow this weekend.
“You sit around and try to figure out how to get out of the funk that you’re in -- not that we’re out of it -- but we’ve gone through stretches like those last three games for extended periods of time since I’ve been here, and to ever get out of them we’ve had to pitch our way out of them,” CCU coach Gary Gilmore said. “And tonight was a great performance by [Poole]. It was huge.”
The Chants started strong Friday, plating two runs in the first inning while taking advantage of two Florida Atlantic throwing errors. And that was all Poole would need.
The 6-foot-6 righty struck out two of the first three batters he faced in a perfect first inning, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second and held the Owls to one run in the third after a leadoff triple by Nathan Pittman. After two more mostly clean innings from Poole, the bullpen then delivered in a big spot to preserve the lead.
After Mark Nelson singled and Ricky Santiago doubled to put runners on second and third with one out for Florida Atlantic (5-4) in the sixth, Gilmore called on freshman left-handed reliever Brock Hunter to face lefty Mike Spano. Hunter got Spano looking at a called third strike, and senior righty Ryan Connolly then came in to get Tyler Rocklein to groundout to short end the threat.
“About two innings earlier, [pitching coach Drew] Thomas already basically planned out that whole scenario, already knew it was going to happen,” Connolly said. “And I knew as long as Brock went out there against that lefty and got that strikeout -- it was huge -- [I just had to] go out there and do my thing, throw strikes. And it worked out.”
Connolly pitched the final three innings as well and didn’t allow a base-runner while racking up five strikeouts to close out the win. Junior Jacob May, meanwhile, led Coastal offensively while going 2-for-4 with a stolen base and two runs scored. Seniors Ted Blackman, Alex Buccilli and junior Colin Hering each had an RBI for the Chants.
As for Poole, he was a highly-touted two-sport prospect coming out of Hickory, N.C., and had initially committed to Ole Miss before eventually signing with Coastal. He was also selected in the 38th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox but elected to come to school instead.
And then came the setbacks. The first meniscus tear cost him his freshman basketball season, and when it tore again, he was encouraged to choose one sport to focus on going forward. After the second surgery, which he says shaved off 25 percent of his meniscus, he began rehabbing with a focus on returning to the mound.
“It was tough,” he said. “Dealing with two sports, two knee surgeries, mentally, it was hard on me. But I worked hard, got back, now I’m 100-percent healthy and I couldn’t ask for more.”
He made his collegiate debut last week on the road again No. 1-ranked North Carolina and was chased from the game after allowing five runs (four earned) in just two innings. But on Friday, he looked very much like the pitcher the Chants envisioned all along.
“I’m not going to lie -- I was nervous,” he said of that game against the Tar Heels. “First start in two years. But I’m glad I came back out today and proved myself.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.