Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore was disappointed earlier this week when he thought the Chanticleers let up after building an early lead, making for a tighter finish to a victory than he felt necessary.
On Friday, though, the Chants had no such issues.
After falling behind twice in the first five innings, Coastal Carolina scored six times in the bottom of the fifth and kept piling on from there to finish off a 16-4 win over Gardner-Webb before a crowd of 1,282 at Springs Brooks Stadium.
Michael Paez was 3-for-4 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored, Matt Beaird was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, G.K. Young was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, Josh Crump chipped in two RBIs in his only at-bat and Anthony Marks, Zach Remillard and Connor Owings also contributed two hits each as the Chants (18-9, 3-1 Big South) earned a convincing victory to open the three-game conference series.
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“When we were playing Stetson [last weekend] we kind of hit cruise control, but our bats kept going. And when we played Citadel [on Wednesday] our bats stopped. It kind of gave us a wake-up call that you’ve got to keep your foot on the gas,” Paez said. “Today, that team can swing it a little bit too so if we stopped hitting they could come back, like coach said, and switch it around on us. It was nice to have the bats awake all game.”
The Chants’ 16 hits were two shy of their season-high 18 set against Ball State, but most impressively was that the lineup did the bulk of that damage against Gardner-Webb right-hander Brad Haymes, who came in 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA.
Gilmore had made sure his players were well aware of that.
“It’s a unique group of guys. I have to find different ways to challenge them all the time,” he said. “It’s good when the other team brings a guy in here that’s got fantastic numbers, has great stuff and all the scout guys show up to see him. That kind of helps motivate a team that occasionally needs that.”
The day didn’t start well for the Chants as Gardner-Webb (21-8, 2-2) took a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning against right-hander Alex Cunningham.
A leadoff double by Collin Thacker, a walk to Patrick Graham and a single by Eric Jones loaded the bases with no outs before Mason Fox plated one run on a chopper back to the mound and Paul Trick followed with a two-run double to the left-center field gap.
Cunningham ran into more trouble in the third as Danny Sullivan hit a one-out single and Thacker followed with a double, but the junior righty struck out Graham and got Jones to ground out to escape more damage.
At that point, the Coastal Carolina hitters were ready for their turn.
Young slapped a two-run single to right in the bottom of the third and Owings led off the bottom of the fourth with a triple before scoring on a sac fly from Tyler Chadwick to tie the game at 3.
Cunningham found himself in yet another jam in the fifth after giving up a solo homer to Sullivan as the Runnin’ Bulldogs retook the lead, 4-3, and the visitors then followed with three straight singles from Thacker, Graham and Jones to load the bases and force a pitching change.
But junior reliever Andrew Beckwith again showed his knack for pitching the Chants out of trouble while inducing Fox into an inning-ending groundout back to the mound.
“That was a critical part of the game right there,” Gilmore said. “All you’ve got to do is hit a 100-foot Texas Leaguer or a nine-hopper through the infield. We had just fought back and it was huge to get out of that inning and to continue to grind out at-bats.”
That second deficit wouldn’t last long at all.
Paez crushed a two-run homer to left-center in the bottom of the fifth and the Chants piled on four more runs with two outs on a two-run single from Billy Cooke and a two-run double from Beaird to make it a 9-4 game.
We’re just having fun. Honestly, this past week or so I can see a difference in everybody – just smiles around the dugout, everybody’s getting up on everybody and nobody is being hard on anybody. We’re just having a good time and when you have fun you seem to play good. It’s just been working out for us.
CCU designated hitter G.K. Young
Coastal Carolina added two more runs in the sixth, two in the seventh and three in the eighth while leaving no doubt about this one.
Paez’s home run was his sixth of the season, tying him with Young for second on the team behind Remillard’s eight.
“That was a big part of the game,” Paez said. “I give props to the bench – they’re on the pitchers. Our coaching staff gave me a little hint he was getting tired and he’s been starting guys off with fastballs. I went up there thinking fastball and he gave it to me, and I give my hat off to the bench and the coaching staff for that.”
Haymes, the reigning co-Big South Pitcher of the Week, was charged with nine runs (eight earned) while giving up eight hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings to drop to 5-1.
Cunningham, meanwhile, took a no-decision while giving up four earned runs on nine hits and a walk in 4 2/3 innings.
Beckwith (2-1) earned the win, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief.
Coastal Carolina has now won five straight and 11 of its last 13 games.
“We’re just having fun,” Young said. “Honestly, this past week or so I can see a difference in everybody – just smiles around the dugout, everybody’s getting up on everybody and nobody is being hard on anybody. We’re just having a good time and when you have fun you seem to play good. It’s just been working out for us.”
▪ The Chants were so dominant Friday even senior relief pitcher Patrick Corbett got an at-bat, grounding out to third base in the eighth. His only other at-bat came as a freshman when he got hit by a pitch and scored a run.
“That was probably one of the more hyped [moments] I’ve seen people in the dugout, to see him get an AB,” Young said. “We love that guy. He’s been here for so long, he’s a role model for a bunch of guys and it was good to watch him get an at-bat.”
▪ Freshman righty Jason Bilous pitched the ninth inning for his first action since March 13, picking up two strikeouts in the scoreless frame while yielding one hit.
▪ The Chants batted out of order in the bottom of the third inning, resulting in Seth Lancaster’s at-bat being skipped and Marks inheriting the 0-2 count he had against him before Gardner-Webb noticed the mistake and spoke to the umpire.