Gary Gilmore says this Coastal Carolina baseball team of his has teased him at times, flashing its potential here and there while not always sustaining it.
But there’s no denying the Chanticleers have the look of a much improved team this spring, and games like Tuesday show just how impressive that full potential can be.
Playing their fifth game in five days with a tired pitching staff and a nationally-ranked perennial power program visiting, the Chants delivered their best performance of the season in a 13-2 win over No. 17 North Carolina before an announced crowd of 1,568 at Springs Brooks Stadium.
It’s the third win over an ACC team this season for the upstart Chants, who improved to 11-6, and their first win over a top-25 foe since late in the 2013 season.
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“It’ll give us confidence. It gives us something to build upon,” Gilmore said. “We can teach and coach all we want to, but until you win some games like this, that true confidence and believing in what the coaches are saying and the changes we’re making, it only pays off if you win games. Every time we play one of these big conference schools, it’s an opportunity and we have to look at it like that. The kids did a great job today. I tip my hat to them.”
It’s actually the second year in a row Coastal Carolina has upended North Carolina after winning 3-2 in 11 innings last year in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 42-17, though, and were making their first trip to Conway since 2001.
In addition to being 17th in Baseball America’s national poll, North Carolina (10-5) came in ranked as high as No. 11 in two other polls and struck first Tuesday with a run in the top of the first.
But Coastal Carolina answered with runs in the third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings to seize full control of the game.
Nine different batters contributed to the Chants’ 14 hits in the blowout win. Sophomore Michael Paez was 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs, while juniors Anthony Marks, Connor Owings, David Parrett and sophomore G.K. Young also had two hits each. Junior Tyler Chadwick was 1-for-2 with two RBIs (both while being hit by pitches with the bases loaded) and Young, juniors Casey Schroeder and Zach Remillard and freshman Kevin Woodall Jr. each had RBIs.
Senior left-hander Austin Kerr (3-0) gave up one run, five hits and two walks over four innings to earn the win while freshman Thomas DuRant followed with two scoreless innings, fellow rookie Bobby Holmes gave up one run over two innings and junior Mike Morrison closed out the win.
“Probably the biggest win, yeah, but probably the best win,” Owings said. “We played absolutely great in all aspects of the game. We swung the bat, we played great defense, we threw the ball very well. That’s probably the most well-rounded win we’ve had all year so we’re very excited about that.”
After loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the first and failing to score, the Chants put the pressure back on Tar Heels rookie starter Hunter Williams in the third when Marks led off with a double and took third on a sacrifice bunt by Paez. Owings followed with a dribbler to the mound that Williams fielded and then threw wild to first allowing the tying run to score.
Young then reached on an infield single and with two outs Schroeder was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Chadwick was then plunked as well to give the Chants a 2-1 lead and end Williams’ day.
In the fourth, Paez lined an RBI infield single off reliever Trevor Kelley. In the sixth, Owings started a two-out rally with a double to the left field corner, Young followed with an RBI single, Parrett reached on a bunt single and Schroeder was walked to load the bases yet again.
North Carolina went to the bullpen again with Spencer Trayner becoming the Tar Heels’ fourth pitcher of the day and he too hit Chadwick to plate a run. Remillard followed with a walk to send in another run and make it 6-1.
Paez added to the lead in the seventh with a bomb of a home run, his second of the season, to left.
“I got hit in the leg the at-bat before so I knew I had to focus up a little bit more. I just wanted to get a good swing on it and I did, so it felt good,” Paez said.
And after giving one run back in the top of the eighth, the Chants tacked on six more runs in the bottom of the inning to all but put away the Tar Heels.
Parrett and Schroeder started the inning with back-to-back doubles, Woodall added a pinch-hit RBI single, Paez drove in another run with a sacrifice fly and then with two outs and the bases loaded North Carolina shortstop Elijah Sutherland dropped a fly ball to allow three more runs to score.
Sutherland had replaced starting shortstop Wood Myers, who was carted off the field after crumbling with an injury while rounding first base in the fifth.
The Chants already had all the scoring they needed, though, before those last three runs.
“It’s obviously more fun playing games like that than nail-biters,” Owings said. “You get to enjoy it, you get to just have fun playing baseball like we have our whole lives.”
As for the pitching, Kerr was making his first start of the season and after giving up three hits and a run in the first he settled down nicely. He walked two batters in the fourth, but worked out of the jam by getting Korey Dunbar to hit into an inning-ending double play.
With the bullpen thin on fresh arms, Gilmore was also especially encouraged by what he got from his two freshmen as well as a perfect ninth inning from Morrison to close out the victory.
The Chants are now way ahead of their 2014 pace after needing 26 games last year to reach 11 wins.
“We beat Georgia Tech. We beat N.C. State and now we beat North Carolina. We know we can rise above whatever our competition is,” Paez said. “It obviously gives us a big confidence booster, especially beating them by 11 here at home.”