Coastal Carolina

Sun Belt baseball coaches don’t expect CCU to win its division. Where it was picked

CCU held its first practice of the season Friday at Springs Brooks Stadium. The Chanticleers have been picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division by the league’s coaches.
CCU held its first practice of the season Friday at Springs Brooks Stadium. The Chanticleers have been picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division by the league’s coaches. jbell@thesunnews.com

After posting the best record in the Sun Belt Conference in its first season in the league last year, the Coastal Carolina baseball team has been picked to finish second in the conference’s East Division this upcoming season by the league’s coaches.

South Alabama, which won the conference tournament title to garner the only NCAA berth the Sun Belt received last season, has been chosen the East Division favorite, earning all 12 first-place votes.

The Chants followed up their 2016 NCAA championship by earning a Sun Belt regular season championship with a league record of 22-7-1 that included 11 consecutive wins to close out the regular season.

But they were ousted after their first game of what is normally a double-elimination Sun Belt tournament after rain postponed games for two days and led to the event being cut to single elimination. The top-seeded Chants fell 7-5 to eighth-seeded Texas State in Statesboro, Ga.

CCU (37-19-1) did not receive one of the 33 at-large berths into the 64-team field, marking just the second time in 11 years and third time in 17 years the Chants failed to participate in an NCAA regional.

Coastal is followed in the East Division predictions by Georgia Southern, Troy, Georgia State and Appalachian State.

In the West Division, perennially strong Louisiana-Lafayette is picked to finish first and received nine first-place votes. Texas-Arlington and Texas State earned the other first-place votes and are followed by Arkansas State, Little Rock and Louisiana-Monroe.

It appears Coastal has successfully reloaded after losing several key players to graduation and the Major League Baseball draft, but South Alabama returns eight starters from a team that went 40-21 last year, including 22-8 in the Sun Belt, and has been ranked by several rating services during the preseason. The Jaguars led the Sun Belt with a .304 team batting average and also led the league in runs scored.

South Alabama junior Travis Swaggerty and Troy senior Andrew Crane were chosen the Sun Belt preseason player and pitcher of the year.

Coastal did not have any players on the 14-player All-Sun Belt team despite senior Kevin Woodall of Georgetown entering the season as a second team preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball after leading the Sun Belt in both home runs (18) and RBIs (60) in 2017, and Cory Wood being the reigning league freshman of the year.

Mueller joins staff

Rick Mueller, who has worked in professional football for more than 20 years, including five years with the Philadelphia Eagles, has been named Coastal Carolina football’s executive director of player personnel.

Mueller previously worked with CCU head coach Joe Moglia with the Omaha Nighthawks in United Football League and most recently served as executive director of player personnel with the Eagles. He has additionally served in executive roles with the United Football League, the New Orleans Saints, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Sacramento Gold Miners of the CFL.

In his role with the Chanticleers, Mueller will work closely with recruiting coordinator Cory Bailey to help evaluate the entire recruiting process and will work closely with chief of staff George Glenn in daily operations. He will additionally serve as the program’s liaison with the NFL.

Mueller spent a total of five seasons with the Eagles, serving as the team’s player personnel executive (2016), director of pro personnel (2014-15) and pro personnel executive (2012-13). While with Philadelphia, he coordinated all aspects of the pro scouting department, including preparation for the free agency signing period, advance scouting of upcoming opponents and evaluation of all players in the NFL and other professional football leagues.

Prior to Philadelphia, Mueller was the UFL’s vice president and served as the general manager for all four teams in its inaugural season in 2009, then spent two years as the Nighthawks GM.

Mueller spent eight seasons in the personnel department of the New Orleans Saints, where he was as the team’s vice president of player personnel (2006-08) and director of player personnel (2000-06), and was with the Jacksonville Jaguars for six years (1994-2000).

Basketball recap

The Coastal men’s basketball team hopes to continue its run of good play as it heads to Texas with the women’s team for a pair of doubleheaders Thursday and Saturday.

The men (10-13) have won three consecutive games after dropping six straight to improve to 4-6 in conference play. The Chants pulled out a one-point win on the road over Troy on Jan. 20 before a pair of double-digit home wins over Arkansas State and Little Rock this past week.

Junior Zac Cuthbertson (15.5) and senior Jaylen Shaw (15.0) continue to lead CCU in scoring.

Sophomore Artur Labinowicz is averaging 10.7 points per game and senior Demario Beck is coming off the bench to add 10.6 points and a team-leading 7.3 rebounds per outing. Sophomore Amidou Bamba came off the bench to score a career-high 18 points in Saturday’s win over Little Rock.

Shaw’s 129 assists are the second highest total in the conference and he also leads the team with 39 steals.

The Chants are now beginning to see conference teams for a second time this season with their games against Texas State (14-9, 7-3 conference) and Texas-Arlington (13-10, 4-6). They defeated UTA by 25 to begin conference play and fell to Texas State 53-48 to begin the six-game skid that heavily featured struggles with three-point shooting. Texas State is the conference leader in points allowed per game. The UTA game begins at 5:15 p.m. Saturday and can be seen online on ESPN3.

CCU coach Cliff Ellis isn’t surprised his team has played better as it has gained experience.

“The experience of other teams having so many people back, and us having guys that are playing for the first time in a major role, whether it be Art, A.J. [Sanders], Zac, Josh Coleman, there will just be that moment when they’re not experienced enough to get us through those moments,” Ellis said.

“One thing I don’t question about our team is they’re going to give it everything they’ve got,” Ellis continued. “But when it’s not going right they lose confidence and become stagnant. I think a lot of that is so many inexperienced guys being out there and they’re trying to figure this thing out there. When it’s going good, it’s good. When it gets off the track it becomes a roller-coaster.”

The CCU women (11-10) dropped to 5-5 in the conference with a pair of tough home losses last week, falling 70-63 to Arkansas State and 51-49 to Little Rock, which is unbeaten in conference play and needed a Ronjanae DeGray jumper with one second remaining for the win.

CCU is one of three Sun Belt women’s teams with two players in the top 10 in scoring in the conference, as Jas Adams is tied for third at 16.8 points and DJ Williams is fifth at 15.0.

The other duos are Texas State’s Toshua Leavitt and Taeler Deer, who are first at 18.6 and tied for third, respectively, and South Alabama’s Chyna Ellis (tied for eighth) and Savannah Jones (tenth).

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin

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