The Coastal Carolina baseball team will be on a mission this year, and that mission began in earnest Friday with the team’s first official practice of the 2018 season.
After winning the national championship in 2016, the Chanticleers were left out of the NCAA tournament last season despite winning the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship in their first year in the league with a record of 37-19-1 and 20-7-1 in the conference.
The Chants would like to take the decision out of the selection committee’s hands this season by winning a conference tournament title and/or being more dominant in the regular season to secure an NCAA berth for the 10th time in the past 12 seasons.
The Chants lost a lot of talent to graduation and the Major League Baseball draft, but they retained some key players and have some talented additions.
“Obviously, we are all excited to get back on the field as an entire unit,” CCU coach Gary Gilmore said. “There has been a lot of positive things to this point, in particular, it’s been enjoyable to watch some of our key returners, specifically Kevin Woodall, Matt Beaird, Kieton Rivers and Cory Wood embrace the role as leaders on this club.
“Also, even though Bobby Holmes is out, he is showing great leadership. There are a lot of new faces and how they progress will be instrumental in our success.”
Woodall, of Georgetown, enters his senior season as a second team preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball after leading the Sun Belt in both home runs (18) and RBIs (60).
The Chants’ key losses off the 2017 team include speedy outfielder and Sun Belt Player of the Year Billy Cooke, shortstop Jordan Gore of Conway and second baseman Wood Myers – all rising juniors drafted by Major League Baseball teams – and pitchers Alex Cunningham, Andrew Beckwith and Will Latcham, who were instrumental in the 2016 College World Series championship.
The Chants have added a couple players who were drafted and chose not to sign with their MLB club.
Catcher Logan White of Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix was a 39th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and left-handed pitcher Scott Kobos of St. John’s River State College in Florida was a 38th-round selection of the Cleveland Indians.
The Chants also added Florida Southwestern State College right-handed pitcher Davie Inman and Polk State College (Fla.) power-hitting first baseman Zach Biermann.
Rising senior Zack Hopeck and rising junior Jason Bilous appear ready to take on significant starting roles. Hopeck started 12 games and was 5-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 2017, while Bilous started 10 and was 3-2 with a 4.61 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings.
Holmes, a closer and senior who recently had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, is expected to redshirt in 2018 and return in 2019.
“Like every season, we still have a lot to do in regards to figuring out where all the parts will fit to give ourselves the best chance to succeed,” Gilmore said. “We are very excited about the talented group of young arms who will get thrown in the fire immediately. That being said, these next three weeks will be very intense and extremely competitive in preparation for one of the best schedules in the country.”
Coastal’s season starts on Feb. 16 against Virginia Tech at Springs Brooks Stadium in the 18th annual Brittain Resorts Baseball at the Beach tournament.