The Coastal Carolina baseball team enters the 2017 looking to defend its College World Series title. However, the Chanticleers have had to deal with some roster turnover.
Five players who likely will have a big role in how CCU fares this season:
The senior right-handed starter won three games in the College World Series a year ago – including a pair of one-run, complete-game performances and 5 2/3 strong innings in the final victory over Arizona – while stealing the show in Omaha, Neb. His performance from 2016 – when he went 15-1 with a 1.85 ERA – will be hard to duplicate, but he said he’s going to try. “You’re never satisfied. Coaches always say you can’t be satisfied with anything, so obviously I have other personal goals and they’ll change as the year goes on. I’m just ready to get out there and compete. I’ve been known as a contact guy who gets ground balls, but it will be nice to not make my infield work as hard this year.”
The sophomore right-handed pitcher was brought along slowly a year ago while coming back from Tommy John surgery. The Wilmington, Del., native – who was drafted in the 29th round of the MLB Amateur Player Draft out of high school – came in with high expectations but started just 10 games, going 3-1 with a 4.43 ERA. With more reps under his belt, Bilous could be primed for a big season. If he can progress, the Chants could benefit greatly from having a “Big 3” in the rotation with Bilous, Beckwith and senior Alex Cunningham (10-4, 3.62 in 2016). “We want to leave our mark on this program and leave a legacy just like other guys have in the past. That’s really where it starts,” Beckwith said. “These younger guys really look up to us and I think if we can leave our mark with them then they will really learn and be able to become better baseball players in the end.”
The Conway High graduate and former South Carolina player sat out last season via transfer rules and is projected to start at shortstop. Gore will be expected to help replace some of the offensive production the Chants lost in the offseason. Michael Paez hit .276 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs from the shortstop spot last season. Gore is a career .247 hitter with three homers and 26 RBIs in his career. If he can provide some punch, it would greatly help Coastal, which will need to score some runs to go along with what should be a solid pitching staff.
The junior returns as the Chants’ batter with the highest average from 2016, when he hit at a .326 clip. Coastal will need him to continue to produce – and perhaps do even more – for an offense that returns players who hit just 17 of the club’s 96 home runs last season. Lancaster will also be adjusting to a move from second base to third this year. “It’s hard not to have fun with the group of guys we have this year. … We pride ourselves on being good teammates and really good friends and people just to each other … the new guys were maybe kind of shell-shocked coming in as the defending national champion, as you can imagine, but we brought them in like we do every year, nothing has really changed. Everybody is as important as the next guy, and we like to preach that.”
The outfielder hit .324 a year ago and stole a team-high 27 bases in 2016. Along with Lancaster, he is one of the few proven bats returning for the national champions. His speed could prove an even bigger weapon this season as the Chants’ strong pitching staff and lack of returning power hitters could mean more small ball.