Coastal Carolina capped a come-from-behind victory with a walk-off bunt, so to speak, and yet that wasn’t even the top highlight from the evening Friday.
Senior Anthony Marks had hit his first career home run in the fourth inning to change the momentum of the game with one swing, sparking the rally and bringing the fans inside Springs Brooks Stadium to their feet, and that was what his teammates were still buzzing about even after the No. 22-ranked Chanticleers finished off a 6-5 win over Campbell in dramatic fashion.
“His mom was up in the stands for his first home run and she’s crying. That’s bigger than the walk-off, that’s bigger than us winning the conference,” said second baseman Seth Lancaster, who scored the winning run. “That’s down home good quality stuff for his mom to see his first home run ... and for that to happen to a guy like Marks. I think that’s bigger than the walk-off win or anything like that.”
Added relief pitcher Bobby Holmes, who threw six strong innings in the win: “I told [Mike] Morrison in BP that [Marks] hit one out, we talk and joke about each other, and I said, ‘What if Marks hits a home run today?’ And sure enough he freaking hit one. The whole dugout lost it. That was a bigger reaction than the walk-off, honestly. That was great to see.”
Marks, the Chants’ fiery 5-foot-8 leadoff hitter, had gone 544 at-bats in his collegiate career without a home run before smacking a low liner into the right field bullpen for a pivotal two-run shot that changed the complexion of the game.
Never in high school, never in little league, never in tee-ball. That’s the first one that’s got out over the fence. It was just a special moment for me. I’m just honestly glad we got the win, though. That’s the most important thing, having been in a nail-biter game like that. And it’s good to have one of those before you head into the conference tournament and the postseason.
CCU’s Anthony Marks on his first career home run
With his mother, grandmother and aunts in attendance for the final regular-season games of his senior season, he blew kisses toward the crowd after rounding second base and punctuated his celebration lap around the bases by sharing an emphatic chest bump with Lancaster.
“That was my first try at it,” he said of the home run trot. “I’d never done that before in a game so hopefully next time it will be a little bit better.”
It will be hard to top.
Coastal Carolina (39-15, 20-3 Big South) was down 5-1 entering the bottom of the fourth before Tyler Chadwick led off with a double, advanced on a sacrifice bunt and scored on an RBI double from Lancaster. Two batters later Marks made it a 5-4 game, taking Grant Yost’s first pitch over the fence.
“[Assistant coach Matt Schilling] just got done saying that he’s starting to pound lefties in a little bit. I’ve been trying to stand off the plate a little bit so that inside pitch looks more down the middle to me,” Marks said. “[With] a guy on second and two outs, I knew he was going to try to get ahead with a fastball. I seen it come in, but stepping off the plate made it look right down the middle and I was just trying to put a good swing on it and drive it into the gap honestly. And when I hit it, I was like, ‘Stay up for me.’”
It did, and it wasn’t just his first collegiate home run – it was his first ever at any level.
“Never in high school, never in little league, never in tee-ball. That’s the first one that’s got out over the fence,” he said. “It was just a special moment for me. I’m just honestly glad we got the win, though. That’s the most important thing, having been in a nail-biter game like that. And it’s good to have one of those before you head into the conference tournament and the postseason.”
With the momentum firmly with the Chants at that point, Connor Owings led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo homer to right-center to tie the game at 5-5.
Neither team managed to get anything going after that until the top of the ninth when Campbell (26-26, 13-10) had a runner on second with one out. Morrison, the Chants’ closer, had taken over for Holmes after the first batter of the inning reached on an error, and he worked out of that jam to keep the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth and set the stage for a momentous win.
Lancaster opened the final frame with his second double of the game, lining the ball off the wall in right-center. Matt Beaird, the bottom hitter in the lineup, then laid down a bunt to move him over and Campbell reliever Erik Dowse threw errantly to third base trying to get Lancaster out. As the ball rolled toward left field, Lancaster took off for home and scored the game-winning run.
“He put it down right back to the pitcher so I knew I had to hustle. I dove and I look up and see Gilley wide-eyed, wheeling me to go,” Lancaster said. “Beaird’s been our guy bunting. ... That’s what he does. It goes under the radar. It’s not in the box score, but that’s huge for him to do that for us.”
Said Chants coach Gary Gilmore: “It’s funny, we work on [that] all the time. I know they think I’m unbelievably anal about it, but we spend countless hours not only doing it offensively, but defending it. And we mess it up with all the times that we do it. It’s amazing when you roll that little white ball out there how many crazy things happen in a game. Especially when the game’s on the line. ... We’re just fortunate.”
Lancaster finished 2-for-4 with those two big doubles, an RBI and two runs while Marks went 4-for-4 with two runs, two RBIs and a moment the Chants won’t soon forget.
“I’m always on him and teasing him. I think he’s hit two or three off me in BP in his whole career here, and everybody stops and claps and cheers for him,” Gilmore said after giving Marks a big hug in the postgame media room. “For him to actually hit one in a game, and that ball was hit very well ... I was hoping it was going to stay up long enough to get out of the ballpark. That completely changed the momentum of the game all in one swing. The inning before, you couldn’t have set it up any better. We had the bases loaded with the heart of our order up and we can’t score. So to be able to get close and then Connor’s big home run to tie it was huge. And Bobby Holmes was absolutely outstanding.”
Campbell had jumped on freshman left-hander Austin Kitchen early, scoring four runs in the first two innings to chase him from his first collegiate start. Kitchen had entered the game with a 1.38 earned-run average and .135 opponent’s batting average while excelling out of the bullpen before giving up five hits, two walks and those four runs.
Holmes allowed a run in the fourth, but he shut the Fighting Camels down after that while retiring 12-straight batters at one point and holding the visitors to five hits and that lone run in his six innings of work. He added five strikeouts.
The Chants matched their 2015 win total with the victory Friday and will go for the series sweep Saturday on senior day, which is free to fans, while looking to keep this momentum rolling into the Big South tournament next week.
“We talked yesterday before the game about not panicking when we get down early, and I think we really executed that well,” Holmes said. “We kind of stuck with the process, something we talk about all the time. Kitch has been a dog for us all year, he’s going to be fine. And we know late in games, with our offense, we’re going to be fine.”
NOTES: A couple of Chants were announced as candidates for national awards Friday. Junior designated hitter G.K. Young was named one of 43 semifinalists for the Dick Howser Trophy, which is given to the top player in college baseball. And Owings, the Chants’ senior leader, was named a semifinalist for the Gregg Olson Award, which honors the breakout player of the year in college baseball.
Who | Campbell at No. 22 Coastal Carolina
Where | Springs Brooks Stadium, Conway
When | 2 p.m.
Senior Day | The seniors will be recognized before the first pitch, and the game is free to all fans.