After a well-earned day off, the Coastal Carolina baseball team was back at it Thursday with one final practice before heading to Baton Rouge, La., for its NCAA super regional with Louisiana State.
The Chanticleers, who are making the third super regional appearance in program history and their first since 2010, were later greeted by about 100 fans and well-wishers as they boarded the bus to continue what has already been an incredible ride for this team and its supporters.
Before taking off, coach Gary Gilmore and the players shared some thoughts about facing the No. 7-seeded Tigers inside what is regarded as one of the best environments in college baseball at the 10,326-seat Alex Box Stadium.
“We’re going kind of into the lion’s den, so to speak. It will be a great experience for us and it’s an opportunity, and we just have to take advantage of it,” Gilmore said. “... I’ve had a bunch of friends who have taken their teams into there and have nothing but great things to say about their fans and the way they do things. It’s a lot of bodies there, a lot of people, kind of like Texas A&M. They’re very knowledgeable fans, they cheer for the team and at least what I’ve been told it’s not a belligerent crowd where things are being said that shouldn’t be said. They’re pulling for their team. ...
“We’re going to go in there and compete. We’re going there trying to win for sure.”
The Chants’ NCAA regional experience at Texas A&M last year – with a crowd of almost 5,000 – might be the closest thing this team has seen to what they will experience in the best-of-three series with the host Tigers this weekend.
“I’ve heard a lot about it. I was talking to my dad about it yesterday and it’s kind of cool to think they’re going to have more people at the game than we do at our whole university,” sophomore second baseman Seth Lancaster said. “It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be a shock for sure. What did we have, 3,000- to 4,000-people last year against South Carolina and Clemson, so it will be new, but it will be fun.”
Said senior first baseman Tyler Chadwick: “We know it’s going to be a big crowd. We practiced today with the music blaring as loud as it could be. We’re excited about it. We played in front of 3,000, I think, at N.C. State and it was hard to hear there so I can imagine what [10,000-plus] rowdy people are going to be.”
LSU (45-19) was ranked No. 5 in the latest Baseball America national poll while Coastal Carolina (47-16) was ranked No. 15 in that poll and as high as No. 11 by Collegiate Baseball.
While the Chants have been on a tear with wins in 16 of their last 18 games, the Tigers have been rolling as well winning 17 of their last 20.
The broader history of the programs is quite different, though. While Coastal Carolina is making its third super regional appearance and vying for its first College World Series berth, LSU has now won 22 NCAA regional championships along with six national championships.
“Obviously they’re one of the best baseball programs all-time in the history of college baseball,” senior left field Anthony Marks said. “So they’re well respected and I know that we respect them as a whole, but we’re going to give them everything we’ve got.”
Beckwith to start opener
Junior righty Andrew Beckwith, who started the regional opener last week, will be first up for the Chanticleers in their super regional matchup with LSU. He comes in with a 12-1 record and a 1.82 ERA this season.
Junior right-hander Alex Cunningham will take the mound on Sunday for Coastal Carolina. He is 9-3 with a 3.66 earned-run average, 90 strikeouts and 33 walks over 98 1/3 innings and went 5 1/3 scoreless innings against NC State in the NCAA Regionals last weekend.
The Tigers are hitting .295 as a team with everyone in their lineup batting .285 or better.
Junior Kramer Robertson leads the way with a .331 average and 20 doubles along with two triples, two home runs, 39 RBIs and 59 runs scored. Sophomore Greg Deichmann has a team-high 10 homers and 54 RBIs while junior Jordan Romero has nine homers and 41 RBIs. The Tigers also have two players with more than 25 stolen bases in juniors Jake Fraley (28 steals in 37 attempts) and Cole Freeman (26-35).
As for pitching on that stage in front of the largest crowd of his career, Cunningham said that only excites him more.
“I love that atmosphere, I really do,” he said. “At N.C. State when they had the Wolfpack chant, it gets the adrenaline rushing a little bit. But in that kind of atmosphere there’s no thought involved, it’s pure instincts.”
Chadwick confident he can play
Chadwick is optimistic he will be able to play in the series opener Saturday night after being hindered by an oblique injury last week.
Chadwick, who is batting .267 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs, did not start the final three games of the NCAA regional at N.C. State, though he did pinch-hit in that momentous ninth-inning comeback Tuesday.
“I took some swings today, I felt good, so I’m ready to go and hopefully Coach Gilmore lets me play,” Chadwick said Thursday. “... Hopefully I’m 100 percent by Saturday.”
Gilmore was non-committal and wanted to see how Chadwick progresses the rest of the week. If he doesn’t start, sophomore Kevin Woodall Jr. (.226 batting average, three homers, 15 RBIs) would take his place at first base.
“We’ll see. He hit all day today so we’ll see how he is tomorrow,” Gilmore said. “A lot of times it’s not how you are right that moment, it’s how are you tomorrow. If he’s full-bore tomorrow then we may have to revisit that.”
Coastal Carolina and LSU have never played in baseball. The schools have played twice in basketball, though, and senior pitcher Tyler Poole was a freshman on the 2011-12 team that beat the Tigers 71-63 in Conway. He redshirted that season due to injury before deciding to focus on baseball.
NCAA Super Regionals
Who | Coastal Carolina at No. 7-seeded Louisiana State
Where | Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
When | Best of three series starts Saturday at 9 p.m. ET
TV | ESPNU
Radio | WSEA-FM 100.3