Alex Cunningham said he had been working to refine his off-speed pitches leading up to his start Thursday night, but as it turned out, he didn’t really need to dip very deep into his arsenal in this one.
His fastball and his command were plenty good enough as he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, racked up nine strikeouts and led the No. 22-ranked Coastal Carolina baseball team to a 9-1 win over Campbell before a crowd of 1,114 at Springs Brooks Stadium.
“I had been working on my off-speed pitches, but that didn’t really come into play tonight,” Cunningham said afterward. “I think I threw four off-speed all night, but just location, location, location. If [I] can spot the fastball, I’ll be pretty good.”
The junior right-hander was better than that Thursday while retiring the first 13 batters he faced and giving up only two hits and one run over six innings while improving to 8-3 for the season.
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And he got plenty of help from the offense, as well.
Zach Remillard put Coastal Carolina (38-15, 19-3 Big South) ahead with a two-run homer to left field in the bottom of the first inning for his 15th of the season to tie for the team lead, and the Chanticleers went on to score in seven of the first eight innings to put the game out of reach.
Connor Owings went 4-for-4 with three stolen bases and three runs scored, Tyler Chadwick went 1-for-4 with a two-run triple, Seth Lancaster was 1-for-3 with two RBIs, two steals and a run, Billy Cooke was 1-for-2 with two steals and two runs and Anthony Marks and Michael Paez also picked up RBIs in the win. Overall, the Chants stole eight bases as a team – just one short of the program’s single-game high, on record.
“That was a big swing off the bat from Remillard early to give us the lead, and I thought the kids did a fantastic job of base-running tonight. We stole some bags, did some things that allowed us to scratch a run here, scratch a run there and distance ourselves from a good team,” Chants coach Gary Gilmore said.
Cunningham, meanwhile, struck out two in the first inning, one in the second, two in the third, two in the fourth and after Campbell (26-25, 13-9) got its first hit in the fifth inning, the righty came back and struck out the final two batters of that inning.
I had been working on my off-speed pitches, but that didn’t really come into play tonight. I think I threw four off-speed all night, but just location, location, location. If [I] can spot the fastball, I’ll be pretty good.
CCU right-hander Alex Cunningham
Campbell would get its only run in the sixth on a two-out RBI double by Anthony Lopez.
“I thought he did a fantastic job,” Gilmore said of Cunningham. “He and coach [Drew] Thomas have been working on some stuff to change some locations and things like that of his pitches, and I thought he did a fantastic job of pitching inside all night. It really showed.”
After Cunningham, Gilmore went to Andrew Beckwith, who had moved into the weekend rotation in recent weeks and who will be a candidate for Big South Pitcher of the Year with a 9-1 record, two saves and a 1.73 earned-run average. He was his typical stingy self Thursday while giving up just one hit and one walk over three scoreless innings.
The thinking was to get him some work early in this series so he could be an option to possibly start the first game of the Big South tournament next week if the matchup dictates.
“Basically that was the plan. I would like to go into Tuesday’s game with the option of a matchup – whoever we end up playing, who is the best matchup,” Gilmore said. “If Beckwith is an extremely great matchup, we may start him; if not, obviously we can go with Alex. I felt like we needed to set that piece in place instead of limiting ourself.”
With regard to the offense, Remillard’s 15th homer Thursday was his sixth in the last 10 games and tied him with G.K. Young for the hotly contested team lead. They are now tied for the Big South lead and have each hit more homers in a season than any Coastal Carolina player since Jose Iglesias swatted 16 in 2010.
Owings, meanwhile, had been in an 0-for-10 skid before his four-hit game, which raised his batting average 13 points to .394.
“I kind of hit a little rough patch. You just have to stick with the mental side and stick with what you’re doing and trust the work that you put in and it comes to show,” he said.
His first hit of the day was on a bunt single down the third base line to beat the defensive shift Campbell had in place. That was all the spark he needed.
“I’ve been waiting all year to get shifted so I could do that,” Owings said.
NOTES: Freshman left-hander Austin Kitchen is set to make his first collegiate start Friday, and Gilmore would like to get him stretched out in case he needs to be used in that role in the postseason. He comes into it with a 4-0 record and 1.38 ERA out of the bullpen, along with a .135 opponent’s batting average that would currently set a new single-season program record.
“He’ll start tomorrow and whatever we need to do after that, we’ll do the best we can,” Gilmore said. “If he pitches well I’d like to get him through five innings just because he may have to start a game in the conference tournament and even beyond that.”