After wins in seven straight and 14 of its last 15 games, the Coastal Carolina baseball team got a nice boost in the latest round of national rankings this week.
But the Chanticleers could really elevate themselves if they can build on that momentum with a big week ahead.
The Chants – who returned to the Baseball America poll Monday at No. 25 and are also ranked by PerfectGame.org (No. 16), Collegiate Baseball (No. 18) and D1Baseball.com (No. 21) – face No. 16 North Carolina on Tuesday evening in Chapel Hill, N.C., before hosting College of Charleston on Wednesday and a three-game series with fellow Big South contender High Point this weekend.
“It’s an opportunity and that’s what you have to look at it as,” Chants coach Gary Gilmore said. “It doesn’t get us to Omaha if we win it and it doesn’t bury us if we lose it, but it helps the resume. It’s definitely a resume-builder if we can get it done, so we’ll see. Both those games Tuesday and Wednesday, they’re obviously very big.”
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The Chants, who defeated College of Charleston last Wednesday and then swept a Big South series from Presbyterian, are 27-10 overall and 11-1 in the conference.
Only Texas Tech (nine games) and UNC Wilmington (eight) have longer current winning streaks than Coastal Carolina, and the Chants’ 10-1 record in April is second only to Texas Tech’s 12-1 mark and tied with Miami for best in the NCAA this month.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are 34-24 and second in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
North Carolina is 43-17 all time against Coastal Carolina, but the Chants have won two of the last three meetings.
“It’s a great opportunity,” senior right fielder Connor Owings said. “Like we always say at the end of the year, it’s all about your resume and this is an opportunity to build it.”
Gilmore expects the Tar Heels to throw 6-foot-3 sophomore left-hander Hunter Williams, who pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a win over South Carolina last week and is 4-2 with a 1.79 earned-run average overall this season.
Speaking Sunday, Gilmore wasn’t sure who the Chants would start on the mound, but the likely candidates are sophomore righty Zack Hopeck (1-2, 4.50 ERA) or junior righty Cole Schaefer (1-0, 4.50).
The Chants will also have their full bullpen at their disposal with senior Mike Morrison (5-0, 0.51), junior Andrew Beckwith (5-1, 2.09) and freshman Austin Kitchen (2-0, 1.52) all available Tuesday.
“We’ve got guys. We’ve got to get somebody to get us through three to five innings and give us a chance to use that bullpen constructively,” Gilmore said.
Owings earns Big South honor
Owings was an obvious choice this week for Big South Player of the Week honors while stretching his hitting streak to 16 games and continuing his torrid pace at the plate.
He went 7-for-15 in four wins last week with three home runs, five runs scored and four RBIs.
During his current hitting streak he’s batting .500 (28-for-56) to raise his season average from .304 to a team-best .392.
And overall he has eight homers, 30 RBIs, a team-leading .664 slugging percentage and a .480 on-base percentage that is second-best on the roster.
Gilmore quipped this weekend that he hopes the senior doesn’t wake up from this dream until the end of June.
Owings seems to be taking it all in stride, meanwhile.
“I’m just trying to do what I know I can do, just try to be on time, be on the barrel as much as possible and good things are working out for me right now,” he said. “It’s baseball – it will even out.”
Remillard snaps home run drought
It’s nitpicking to say that senior third baseman Zach Remillard was in any sort of a drought, but after starting the season on a blistering pace he had gone 16 games without a home run until hitting one Sunday.
Even after the recent dip in power production, he is again tied for the team lead at nine homers along with junior G.K. Young.
“It definitely felt good and it’s a long season, you’re going to go through your ups and downs, it’s the game of baseball – round bat, round ball, tough to hit,” Remillard said. “So it’s exciting to get one on the barrel and have a pretty good day, but it’s a long season.”
And it’s been a fantastic one for the veteran infielder, who is batting .356 with 34 RBIs and a .623 slugging percentage that ranks below only Owings. He’s also tied for the team lead with 10 doubles.
It was only one inning of work in a lopsided game, but Gilmore was very encouraged by what he saw from freshman righty Jason Bilous on Sunday.
The touted rookie picked up two strikeouts in a clean eighth inning against Presbyterian, but he is still working to establish consistency after a rough start to the season in which he’s battled with command issues.
Bilous, who turned down a significant offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer to follow through on his commitment to Coastal Carolina, has an 8.03 ERA over 12 1/3 innings this year with 19 strikeouts and 13 walks.
“[Pitching coach Drew] Thomas, we’ve watched a bunch of video together and did some stuff, and he did a good job with him changing into a two-seam [fastball] guy and still throwing 95-96 miles-an-hour, down in the zone and throwing that slider,” Gilmore said. “He can help us if he does that. I think each time he does that, you have more confidence to put him in a tougher situation where he doesn’t have to have a [big lead] and he can go in and do that in a two, three-run game and just take an inning off of Morrison, take an inning off of Beckwith. That would be huge for us.”
Initially, the hope was that Bilous would emerge as a weekend starter as he eased back from Tommy John surgery and built his pitch count up, but for now he’ll remain in the bullpen.
“Probably so just because of the way the schedule is, probably so until tournament time and you never know what happens at that point,” Gilmore said.
CCU’s Weekly Schedule
Tuesday: at No. North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C., 6 p.m. (ESPN3)
Wednesday: College of Charleston, Springs Brooks Stadium, 6 p.m.
Friday: High Point, Springs Brooks Stadium, 6 p.m.
Saturday: High Point, Springs Brooks Stadium, 2 p.m.
Sunday: High Point, Springs Brooks Stadium, 2 p.m.