Coastal Carolina enters its final three-game series of the regular season having won nine of its past 11 games and with projections of being on or near the bubble for an NCAA regional berth.
The Chanticleers’ regional hopes may still depend on how they fare in the final series against Appalachian State at Springs Brooks Stadium that begins Thursday, and their performance in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament next week in Statesboro, Ga.
CCU hopes to have a chance to defend its 2016 national championship.
The Chants’ late hot streak, which has included three-game road sweeps of Louisiana-Monroe and Texas-Arlington, has earned it a spot in this week’s CollegeSportsMadness.com projected postseason tournament field as the No. 3 seed in a regional hosted by Clemson.
The Chants are still out of this week’s projections by two other primary publications and websites that cover college baseball, however.
Baseball America and D1baseball.com still have the Chants missing out on an at-large postseason berth.
“If we’d have played like this since Day 1 we’d be a top-10 team right now,” CCU head coach Gary Gilmore said. “
Where we’re at, we have to win. I don’t need to look at anything. I know exactly what we have to do.
“There’s one true way for us to get in, that’s to win a conference tournament and that’s going to be our goal.”
Coastal (34-18-1) has improved to 19-7-1 in the Sun Belt, pulling within a half-game of South Alabama (34-18, 20-7), which has won five straight games, in the conference’s East Division. The Chants have risen to No. 24 in Collegiate Baseball’s national rankings. Texas-Arlington (29-22) leads the West Division at 19-8 in the conference, followed by Louisiana-Lafayette 32-20-1, 16-10-1).
Baseball America writers Michael Lananna and Teddy Cahill have CCU among the “First Four Out” along with UL-Lafayette, South Carolina and Utah, citing CCU’s 3-9-1 record against Top 50 Rating Percentage Index (RPI) teams, its No. 46 RPI rating and the Sun Belt’s RPI conference rank of ninth.
CCU, South Alabama (38), which lost its head-to-head season series to Coastal, and UL-Lafayette (47) are the three teams from the conference in the RPI top 50.
Both CollegeSportsMadness.com and D1baseball.com have two Sun Belt teams in the tournament, with South Alabama joining CCU as a No. 3 seed in a regional hosted by Kentucky in one, and both South Alabama and UL-Lafayette as No. 3 regional seeds in another.
“I think we make our own destiny. There’s no room for error, pretty much,” CCU centerfielder and leadoff hitter Billy Cooke said. “We’ve just got to come out and play our hardest game every single day.”
Appalachian State (19-33, 8-19) limps into this week’s series having lost five straight and nine of its past 10 games. The Mountaineers are tied with Georgia State for last in the East Division, and the last-place teams from each division are left out of the 10-team conference tournament.
“These three games starting tomorrow are huge for us just to get wins, and they’re huge for them too,” Gilmore said. “ … I’m sure we’re going to get whatever they’ve got in the tank, so we simply need to be prepared for it.”
The Chants dropped a wild game at Clemson on Tuesday night.
Coastal Carolina erased a six-run deficit to take a lead in the eighth inning, only to give up a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth to fall 11-8 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Clemson had taken a 7-1 lead with seven runs off CCU freshman lefthanded starter Anthony Veneziano through five innings, but the Chanticleers battled back with four runs in the sixth, a run in the seventh and two in the eighth to take an 8-7 lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, Clemson got the first two batters on base on a Robert Jolly walk and error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. A sacrifice moved the runners to second and third and the Chants chose to walk Reed Rohlman, the No. 2 batter in the order, to load the bases and face designated hitter Seth Beer with one out.
Jason Bilous got ahead of Beer 1-2, but the sophomore hit a grand slam to right-center field on a 2-2 pitch to give Clemson the lead and end the game’s scoring.
Billy Cooke was hit by a pitch leading off the ninth but was stranded at second as Clemson reliever Ryley Gilliam threw the final 1 2/3 innings without allowing a hit or walk while striking out three.
Clemson, which is ranked between 12th and 14th in the nation in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball rankings, improved to 38-15.
The teams combined for 25 hits and seven home runs. Beer and Weston Jackson had three hits apiece for Clemson, while Cooke was 3-for-4 for CCU and Jordan Gore, Kevin Woodall Jr., Wood Myers and Kieton Rivers had two hits each. They were Nos. 1-5 in the CCU order.
After Clemson took a 7-1 lead, Woodall hit a three-run homer – his 18th homer of the season – to chase Clemson starter Tyler Jackson and Myers added a solo shot in the top of the sixth.
Cooke hit a solo shot in the seventh, CCU picked a Clemson runner off third base to end the bottom of the seventh, and the Chants took the lead on a two-run double by Seth Lancaster in the top of the eighth.