The Coastal Carolina baseball team will have plenty of eyes on it this weekend as it begins its quest to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.
The 2016 NCAA national champions open the season Friday in the 19th annual Brittain Resorts Baseball at the Beach tournament, and the amount of talent in the event has attracted media representatives from ESPN, Baseball America, D1Baseball and the Perfect Game baseball scouting service.
Scouts from about half if not a majority of Major League Baseball teams are also expected at the four-day tournament that concludes Monday.
The Chanticleers begin the tournament at 4 p.m. Friday against Virginia Tech on campus at Springs Brooks Stadium, and there are two other games Friday at noon and 4 p.m. at TicketReturn Field at Pelicans Ballpark in Myrtle Beach featuring the other four tournament teams: Indiana, Oklahoma, Kansas State and South Alabama.
Coastal Carolina missed the NCAA Tournament last season despite winning the Sun Belt Conference regular season title with a 37-19-1 overall record.
The Chants lost six players who were selected in the MLB draft and have lost talented pitchers Bobby Holmes and Austin Kitchen for the season to injuries.
Yet the Chants were picked by the league’s coaches to finish second in the Sun Belt’s East Division behind reigning conference tournament champion South Alabama, and appear to have the talent to contend for a league championship and NCAA berth.
The Chants return six pitchers, including three starters in Zack Hopeck, Anthony Veneziano and Jason Bilous, who is rated the 57th-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball, and the offense will have some pop with the return of Georgetown’s Kevin Woodall, who led the Sun Belt in home runs (18) and RBIs (60) last season, and 2017 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Cory Wood.
Newcomers include a pair of players who were drafted – junior lefthanded pitcher Scott Kobos and freshman catcher Logan White – but chose to attend Coastal rather than sign a pro contract.
Other headliners in the tournament include: Sun Belt Preseason Pitcher of the Year Travis Swaggerty of South Alabama, who is on the Golden Spikes Award watch list and is rated the ninth-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com; Oklahoma’s Steele Walker, who is on the Golden Spikes list and is rated the 21st-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com; Oklahoma’s Jake Irvin, rated the 81st-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com; and Virginia Tech preseason All-American third baseman Sam Fragale.
Five of the six teams in this year’s field were on D1Baseball’s top 100 NCAA baseball programs, and this season, South Alabama is ranked 20th by D1Baseball while Indiana and Oklahoma are ranked 17th and 18th, respectively, by PerfectGame.org.
Baseball at the Beach has a history of star playhers. The 2013 event alone featured four eventual top-15 draft picks in third baseman Kris Bryant, pitcher Carlos Rodon, catcher Kyle Schwarber and shortstop Trea Turner.
Games are at both venues each day of the tournament. For games at Coastal Carolina, fans without parking passes should park in the free lot off Highway 544 and utilize free shuttles. Parking is free at Pelicans Ballpark.
Baseball at the Beach is the first of four early-season tournaments the Chants are hosting. The Brittain Resorts Invitational from Feb. 23-25 will feature West Virginia, Illinois and Virginia Commonwealth, the Coastal Carolina Challenge from March 2-4 will feature Maryland, Radford and Ball State, and the Environmental Staffing Chanticleer Classic from March 9-11 will feature Ohio State and High Point.
Coming off a run to the third round of the NCAA tournament, the Coastal men’s soccer team has reloaded with the signing of 11 players, including a local product.
Head coach Shaun Docking has signed midfielder Luke Williams of Murrells Inlet, who scored 31 goals with 10 assists for 72 points in 20 matches at St. James High. The 6-footer is also a member of the Coast FA and Myrtle Beach Mutiny teams.
Striker Jaiden Fortune is transferring to Coastal after playing at Elon College, where he was named to the Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie Team and 2017 All-CAA Third Team. Keeper Lance Da Silva is transferring from Longwood University, keeper Paulo Pita is transferring from the University of Charleston (W.Va.) after helping the Golden Eagles win the NCAA Division II national championship, and keeper Alex Brown of Lee’s Summit, Mo., has also signed.
Midfielder Jacob Seeto of Brisbane, Australia, spent the past season playing for both the U18 and U20 National Premier League clubs and finished the season with 15 goals in 32 matches. Oliver Gerbig is a defender from Germany who played on the U21 Hong Kong National Team, defender Paavo Riihijarvi is from Finland, and midfielder Kahsay Sahlu is from Ethiopia.
The Chants also signed forward Raul Ruiz of West Wendover, Nev., and striker Langston Blackstock of Marietta, Ga., the leading scorer for his club team the Concord Fire.
Not to be outdone, CCU women’s soccer coach Paul Hogan has signed seven freshmen from Georgia, New Jersey, N.C., S.C. and Virginia as part of his 2018 signing class.
Forward Loranna Austin (Blythewood, S.C.), defender Mackenzie Cherry (Atlanta, Ga.), defender Jordan Farley (Chesapeake, Va.), midfielder/forward Gianna Flowers (High Point, N.C.), midfielder Brayleigh Jones (Outer Banks, N.C.), defender/midfielder Emilia Leturgez (Point Pleasant, N.J.), and defender Caeden Price (Duluth, Ga.) are all headed to CCU.
Football adds assistant
T.J. Hollowell, who played four seasons in professional football and was a volunteer and intern coach at Nebraska in 2009-10 when Coastal Carolina head coach Joe Moglia was with the Cornhuskers, has been named a CCU assistant football coach.
Hollowell fulfills a new NCAA Division I FBS rule that allows a 10th on-field assistant coach and will work with the defensive line and special teams.
Hollowell spent the past two years as defensive coordinator at Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High, which had a Maxpreps.com national ranking of 49th in 2017. He was a linebackers coach at Youngstown State in 2015.
Hollowell was a linebacker at Nebraska from 2000-03, played for the New York Giants in 2004 and the New York Jets in 2005, spent two training camps with the Denver Broncos and spent parts of two years in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos.
The Coastal men’s and women’s basketball teams are hosting their final two home games of the season this week with games against Troy on Thursday and South Alabama on Saturday.
The women’s games begin at 5 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday, and the men’s games tip off at 7:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
The Chants will play their final three games of the regular season on the road before the start of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in New Orleans on March 7.
The Coastal men (11-15) have lost two in a row to Texas-Arlington and Appalachian State after winning four straight to fall to 5-8 in Sun Belt play. The Troy and South Alabama men are both 6-6 in conference play.
The Coastal women (12-12) snapped a four-game skid with a 73-68 win over Appalachian State on Saturday at the HTC Center to improve to 6-7 in the conference. A pair of wins will give the CCU women a 13-4 record at home this season, but it will be challenging as both Troy and South Alabama are 8-4 in conference play.
The CCU softball and women’s golf teams had successful starts to their seasons this past week, and the men’s golf team looks for a good start this week.
The softball team went 4-1 in its Kickin’ Chicken Classic, earning two wins over Iowa State and victories over UNC Greensboro and Presbyterian while falling to Saint Francis (Pa.), outscoring its opponents 21-5 in the process. Senior Kailey Mellen and junior Alexis Alvino are both batting .400 or better through the five games, while freshman pitcher Kaitlin Beasley-Polko is 2-0 and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 16 innings.
The Chants next host the Battle at the Beach beginning Thursday and featuring Connecticut, Lafayette, Kent State, Robert Morris and Rider.
The women’s golf team began the spring with a tie for third in the Florida State Match Up with a 9-under 855, which ties for the third-best three-day, 54-hole score in relation to par in the history of the program.
Reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year senior Malene Krolboll Hansen shot a 7-under 209 to finish third individually and junior Marie Lunackova tied for eighth at 3-under 213.
The men’s golf team begins the spring Saturday and Sunday at the Suntrust Gator Invitational at Mark Bostick Golf Club in Gainesville, Fla. The Chants were consistent if not spectacular in the fall under new coach Jim Garren, finishing between fourth and sixth in four events.
Junior Luis Ruiz, who recently played in the Latin America Amateur, posted the team’s low scoring average in the fall at 71.58 and had a pair of top-10 finishes.
Baseball at the Beach schedule
Indiana vs. Oklahoma, Pelicans Ballpark, noon
South Alabama vs. Kansas State, Pelicans Ballpark, 4 p.m.
Virginia Tech vs. Coastal Carolina, Springs Brooks Stadium, 4 p.m.
Oklahoma vs. South Alabama, Springs Brooks Stadium, 11 a.m.
Kansas State vs. Indiana, Pelicans Ballpark, noon
Oklahoma vs. Coastal Carolina, Springs Brooks Stadium, 3 p.m.
South Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, Pelicans Ballpark, 4:30 p.m.
South Alabama vs. Indiana, Springs Brooks Stadium, 10:30 a.m.
Oklahoma vs. Virginia Tech, Pelicans Ballpark, 2 p.m.
Kansas State vs. Coastal Carolina, Springs Brooks Stadium, 2:30 p.m.
Indiana vs. Coastal Carolina, Springs Brooks Stadium, 11 a.m.
Virginia Tech vs. Kansas State, Pelicans Ballpark, noon