The Coastal Carolina baseball team took the field on Friday for the first time since being crowned the darlings of the diamond last summer, and though the memories of Omaha are still fresh, the Chanticleers showed they are ready to focus on the field and the future.
Kevin Woodall Jr’s solo home run started off a four-run fifth inning for the Chanticleers in an 8-5 win over Richmond in the Caravelle Resort Baseball at the Beach tournament at Springs Brooks Stadium.
The last time the Coastal Carolina baseball team played a game that mattered was June 30, when the Chanticleers capped a storybook season with a 4-3 win over powerhouse Arizona in Game 3 of the NCAA College World series.
“Now that we’ve played a game, and we’ve had some good things and some not-so-good things happen, how we react to that, can some of the things that we have control over, if they happen tomorrow, can we get better at them,” Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore said.
Expectations are high for this team, which enters the 2017 season ranked ninth in the USA Today Coaches poll and 11th by D1 Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers, but Gilmore said he doesn’t feel any more expectations this season than he has in seasons past. “I It’s not a pressure to win. It’s a passion to win,” Gilmore said.
“...We’re not going to be an Omaha team until the end, if we are at all. I’m not worried about us being one today, that doesn’t do us any good. We need to build and build and build all year long and go into the end of the year being a huge team of guys all playing well, all understanding their roles and executing their roles and doing the things that we can do. If we grow the way I hope we will, this team will be very good.”
Woodall was 2-for-5 with the homer, a double and two runs. Billy Cooke was 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored, Dalton Ewing was 2-for-5 with a triple and Cory Wood and Wood Myers each had a hit and a pair of RBIs as Coastal Carolina improved 29-13 in season openers since 1974 and 3-0 in openers at Springs Brooks Stadium.
Alex Cunningham earned the win, scattering eight hits over five innings and striking out three, Andrew Beckwith came out of the bullpen, throwing two innings of one-hit ball with three strikeouts, and Cole Schaefer gave up three hits in two innings to finish the game for Coastal Carolina.
The Spiders (0-1) tied the game with four runs in the top of the fifth, but committed six errors in the loss.
D.J. Lee was 3-for-4 for Richmond and Kyle Adams was 2-for-5 with three RBIs. Robbie Baker took the loss, going 4 ⅓ innings and giving up seven runs (four earned) with three strikeouts.
Honors abound for the 2017 edition of the Chants. Coastal Carolina is making the move to the Sun Belt Conference, and have been pegged as the preseason favorite to win the league's East Division.
Gilmore, who is in his 22nd season at Coastal Carolina, is the reigning National Coach of the Year.
Beckwith, the winningest pitcher in the nation last season at 15-1 and the Most Outstanding Player at the CWS, is on the preseason watch list for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, a preseason All-American and the Sun Belt preseason Pitcher of the Year, and several other Chants are tabbed as preseason All Conference picks.
There were some holes to fill in the lineup after six members of the 2016 team were drafted, including shortstop Michael Paez, who was picked by the New York Mets in the fourth round, and third baseman Zach Remillard, who went to the Chicago White Sox in the 10th round.
Conway native Jordan Gore has moved into the starting lineup at shortstop to replace Paez, Seth Lancaster has moved from second to third, Myers takes over at second, and Woodall Jr., a Georgetown product, becomes the regular first baseman.
Cooke returns and will play centerfield, Dalton Ewing is in right and highly-touted freshman Wood is the starter in left field.
Remillard and Paez were among a group of the players from last year's team that also included Mike Morrison and G.K. Young who were on hand to unveil the National Championship trophy on the concourse prior to Friday's game.
Paid attendance was 3,280 on Friday, which set a record for largest on-campus crowd for a Coastal Carolina game. Festivities continue on Saturday at 2 p.m. with the National Championship ring ceremony and the raising of the National Championship flag prior to Coastal's game against Western Carolina.