There’s a lot to like about the way the Coastal Carolina baseball team is playing at this point of the season.
The Chanticleers have won 11 of their last 12 games with the lone defeat in that stretch coming on the road at South Carolina. They sit atop the Big South standings and have a deep lineup that ranks 20th nationally in batting average (.310), ninth in home runs (1.21 per game) and 24th in scoring (7.7 runs per game).
But coach Gary Gilmore worries about the other stuff, the weaknesses that need to be shored up if the Chants are going to have the kind of season so many inside and outside the program believe is possible.
“The record is okay. Obviously any coach would wish it was better,” Gilmore said Wednesday after a 5-3 win over College of Charleston. “[But] I have reservations and a couple of things that bother me a whole lot at this point that, I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do with.”
He’s talking about the pitching – and more specifically the starting rotation – that hasn’t performed quite as well as he’d hoped to this point..
If we plan on having any chance of winning a regional we have got to find two more guys who can get outs for us. ... I think our lineup is one of the better lineups around. [But] when we get pitched really good, we’re not going to score as many runs, so we have to be better in that area. The frustrating part for me is I do believe the ability is there; it’s just going out there and getting it done.
Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore
Freshman Jason Bilous, the team’s most touted newcomer this year, hasn’t made a start since March 13 and has worked just twice out of the bullpen since then while trying to find his command.
Adam Hall, a graduate transfer from Xavier, was expected to make a big impact this season as well, but he hasn’t pitched since March 9 after allowing six runs in his first 2 1/3 innings.
Junior Alex Cunningham, expected to be the ace of the staff, has shown flashes of his potential and is coming off his best start of the season last week, but he carries a 4.53 earned-run average with his 5-1 record. Senior Tyler Poole has been pretty solid overall with a 4-2 mark and 3.38 ERA, but he hasn’t gotten past the fourth inning in three of his last four starts. And sophomore Bobby Holmes, who had a terrific freshman season, has struggled to a 5.35 ERA while moving between the bullpen and rotation.
“If we plan on having any chance of winning a regional we have got to find two more guys who can get outs for us,” Gilmore said. “And Bobby Holmes has got to get back to who he was, and Tyler Poole can’t be the guy he’s [been] the last couple outings. We need the guy that can give us five to seven innings of uneventful pitching and give us a chance to use our offense. I think our lineup is one of the better lineups around. [But] when we get pitched really good, we’re not going to score as many runs, so we have to be better in that area. The frustrating part for me is I do believe the ability is there; it’s just going out there and getting it done.”
Gilmore said Cunningham will start Friday in the series opener as Presbyterian comes to town for three games, but he was’'t sure about who would start the other two games.
Home run derby
Junior designated hitter G.K. Young clubbed his seventh home run of the season Wednesday in the Chants’ win over College of Charleston and is now one behind the team’s co-leaders, senior third baseman Zach Remillard and junior shortstop Michael Paez.
Young says there’s no competition between the players in that regard, though.
“No, honestly we don’t even talk about it,” he said. “We just stay tight and hope each other hits as many as we can. I don’t think we’ve had a conversation all year about who’s going to hit the most home runs. You get to talking about home runs, you get to overswinging, so we just don't even talk about it.”
In addition to those three guys, senior first baseman Tyler Chadwick and senior right fielder Connor Owings each have five homers.
After not having any players post double-digit home run totals from 2012-14, the Chants had two guys hit at least 10 last year and could end up with three or more guys with at least 10 for the first time since having six do it during that memorable 2010 season.
Owings and Cooke on a tear
Owings is the Chants’ hottest hitter with a sizzling .511 batting average (23-of-45) during a current 13-game hitting streak.
With that, he’s now batting a team-best .386 and ranks second on the squad in both on-base percentage (.474) and slugging percentage (.596).
The Chants were counting on top-end production from the senior this season, but perhaps more of a surprise is the support they’re also getting from the bottom of the lineup.
Sophomore Billy Cooke has reached base safely in 25 straight games and ranks third on the team with a .364 batting average along with 16 stolen bases in 20 attempts. Meanwhile, sophomore Seth Lancaster is batting .321 with a team-best .491 on-base percentage.
That’s impressive work from a pair of players who were slotted seventh and eighth in the lineup Wednesday.
“I think he’s just growing up as a hitter,” Gilmore said of Cooke in particular. “He’s a guy that had a chance to play all summer and got a lot of at-bats and now he’s back here getting a lot of at-bats again and he’s kind of feeling comfortable in the role that he’s in. He’s playing with an awful lot of confidence right now, and it’s a huge thing.
“He and Seth Lancaster at the bottom of the order have been huge for us. Seth was incredible over the weekend, and it just kind of fuels the offense when that bottom part does something. It really gives us some opportunities at the top to put multiple-run innings together.”
Presbyterian visits Springs Brooks Stadium this weekend with an 18-14 overall record and 5-4 mark in Big South play after sweeping a three-game series with Winthrop last week.
Weston Jackson leads the Blue Hose and has been one of the Big South’s top hitters with a .397 batting average, 18 doubles, six homers and 37 RBIs. He leads the conference with a .694 slugging percentage.
Pitching has been something of an issue for the Blue Hose, meanwhile. They rank near the bottom of the league with a collective 4.95 earned-run average.
Junior left-hander Brian Kehner, the team’s usual Friday night starter, has been solid with a 4-2 record, 2.76 ERA and a 42-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 innings, but senior righty David Sauer (3-2, 5.30 ERA) and sophomore righty Tanner Chock (1-2, 5.31) have had their struggles.