Coastal Carolina begins the meat of its baseball schedule this week with the start of Sun Belt Conference play, and coach Gary Gilmore believes his team's hosting of tournaments and teams over the first four weekends of the season sets it up for a successful conference run.
The Chanticleers travel to Arkansas State for a three-game series from Friday through Sunday. Game times are set for 7:30 p.m. (Eastern) Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
The Chants enter conference play at 12-7 on the season, having creeped into some national polls.
The 2016 national champions finished their first season in the Sun Belt last year with the best conference record in the regular season at 22-7-1 but did not receive an NCAA berth with a 37-19-1 record after losing in the first round of a conference tournament that was shortened to a single-elimination event because of weather.
Gilmore is happier with his team’s start to the season this year.
“Last year we lost virtually every game we could,” Gilmore said. “If we could find a way to lose, we found ways to lose. This team somehow finds ways to win, so I’m not going to be critical of that. I just realize we have a lot of improvement we have to do to be a top 25 team.”
In addition to 30 upcoming conference games through May 19, the Chants also have a pair of games coming up with in-state power Clemson, at home at 6 p.m. Tuesday and at Clemson at 6:30 p.m. on April 3.
The Chants will also complete its two-game series with College of Charleston, UNC Wilmington and Wake Forest – it has beaten all three in the first games – and will have a two-game series with North Carolina in late April and early May.
Coastal is coming off four consecutive home tournaments to start the season, with a few weekday games thrown in.
Coastal started the Brittain Resorts Baseball at the Beach event in 2000, and over the past 18 years it has added additional home tournaments and has played in three or four in each of the past several years. That has allowed Coastal to play 18 of its first 19 games this season at home.
Though it doesn’t prepare the team for much travel, Gilmore believes it gives the Chants an advantage that carries throughout the season. Gilmore said that despite giving teams some guaranteed payments for expenses to the tournament, the Chants would spend at least that much traveling to events.
“It’s a good thing for us. For the same amount of money we put into all these teams, we can play at home. You need to win to make it worth the while, but . . . it would be crazy to not want to play here and play 32 or 33 home games every year.
“We get our times in the weight room. We get to do things to help us be better at the end of the year, to be honest with you. Some of these teams bus in here, it takes them 10, 11 hours to get here and they turn around and have to do that going back. I don’t envy any of them doing that.”
The Chants will host just three tournaments next year because they are playing in an event at Safeco Field in Seattle against Oregon State, Cal Fullerton and Washington. “That will be a cool thing to give up one tournament to get a chance to play in that environment against those great teams,” Gilmore said.
In their most recent outing Tuesday against Connecticut, the Chants fell behind 11-1 but nearly pulled an unlikely comeback, falling 12-10 and leaving the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Coastal in the early part of the season has been trying to overcome the season-long losses to injury of senior righthander Bobby Holmes and junior lefthander Austin Kitchen out of the bullpen.
It has had an impact throughout the pitching staff, and is forcing Gilmore to rely on some freshmen out of the bullpen that he hopes gain more confidence and effectiveness as they gain more experience. Freshmen Shaddon Peavyhouse and Zach McCambley have shown ability but also have been hit hard at times, as has newcomer Scott Kobos.
Starters Jason Bilous and Anthony Veneziano have earned-run averages below 3.00, senior Zack Hopeck has struggled to a 5.40 ERA despite a strong opening start, and freshman fourth starter Anthony Simonelli pitched pretty well in his first three outings before being hit hard by UConn, surrendering 10 runs on eight hits in two innings.
Coastal’s offense might be reliable all season. The Chants have nine players batting at least .280 this season, including three at .300 or above, and they are also hitting for power, as seniors Seth Lancaster and Kevin Woodall Jr. and junior Zach Biermann all have at least five home runs and Lancaster has an additional 10 doubles.
“We’ve been better than average at several areas of the game,” Gilmore said. “At this point I’m smart enough to realize we have a lot of improvement we have to do to be a real good team. We’re going to run up against teams as time goes on that force us to earn everything. We’re going to have to get a whole lot better offensively and pitching as well.”
Biermann was named the Sun Belt Player of the Week after hitting hit four home runs and tallying nine RBI last week. The Wisconsin native who joined the Chants this season from Polk State Community College in Florida batted .500 (10-for20) for the week, had a hit in all five games, scored in four and had at least one RBI in four.
On the season, Biermann is batting a team-best .344 while leading the team and SunBelt in slugging percentage (.719). He ranks second on the team in hits (22), doubles (6), home runs (6) and RBI (19).
Pro Day on Friday
Coastal Carolina is hosting the Palmetto Pro Day for prospective professional football players and scouts from pro football leagues Friday morning beginning around 8 a.m.
Nineteen players are registered to participate in the event that includes a knowledge test and series of strength and athletic drills.
Many are members of Coastal’s 2017 football team, a few are former Coastal players returning for a second Pro Day including tight end A.J. Sattinger and offensive linemen Voghens Larrieux and Sam Ekwonike, and some are from other schools.
Former Myrtle Beach High standout linebacker Octavius Thomas, who played at Division II Shepherd College in W.Va., and wide receiver Jumill Malcolm Harnsby Jr of North Charleston and Limestone College are among a few non-CCU players from South Carolina who are registered to participate.
The list of players includes Oshamar Abercrombie, Gary Bradshaw, Lorenzo D’Angelo, Dontay Hears, Kerron Johnson, Shane Johnson, Chris Jones, Marcus Williamson, Austin Wilson, Devin Brown, Richie Sampson, Anthony Ellis, Kailik Williams and Brendon Jackson.
Off the weekend
After a couple years of being played on the weekend, with a Friday college-am preceding the three competitive rounds, Coastal’s General Hackler Championship is moving back to Monday and Tuesday dates next year at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club.
The tournament will be March 11-12, and CCU coach Jim Garren believes he’ll have the field tentatively completed within the next couple weeks. Garren also said he already has seven events on his team’s 2018-19 schedule finalized.
“Whatever the club allows us, we’re going to do, then we’ll see what dates are good for them and we’ll try to fit it to match our schedule,” Garren said. “For them the dates make sense, and for us they make sense. Backing up two days gives me a little bit more room for travel.”
Garren is in his first year at CCU after being an assistant on Oklahoma’s national championship team last season, so he got his first taste of the 17-year Hackler tournament.
“The tournament was amazing,” Garren said. “If you want to set up a big-time golf tournament, the best player should win and the best team should win, and you saw that this week with Georgia Tech and Texas A&M battling it out. Those were the two highest ranked teams here. That means the golf course is tremendous, that means the setup was great, that means it was a legitimate test of golf.
"I can’t be happier for the champion we’ve got in Georgia Tech, traditionally one of the best programs ever.”
While neither Coastal Carolina basketball team received a postseason bid, three men’s and three women’s teams from the Sun Belt Conference are playing in the postseason this year.
In men’s basketball, Georgia State defeated Texas-Arlington in the tournament championship game to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years, while Sun Belt regular season champion Louisiana Lafayette is in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and Louisiana-Monroe is in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT).
Georgia State is seeded 15th in the South Region and will face second-seeded Cincinnati at 2 p.m. Friday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
The conference holds a 27-55 (.329) record in 54 NCAA appearances. A SunBelt team has won a game in the Big Dance in three of the last six years – Western Kentucky in 2012, Middle Tennessee 2013 and Georgia State in 2015.
In women’s basketball, tournament and regular season champion Little Rock is headed to Tallahassee, Fla., as a No. 14 seed and will face No. 3 seed Florida State in the Albany Region at 11 a.m. (Eastern) Saturday on ESPN2. Texas State received a berth in the Women's NIT and South Alabama in the WBI.
Last season, the Coastal men reached the finals of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) postseason tournament, falling 2-1 to Wyoming in the best-of-three championship series to finish the season 20-19.
The Chants were 14-18 this season with a first-round conference tournament exit, while the CCU women finished 17-14 after reaching the second round of the conference tournament.
Adams moving on
Christian Adams shouldn’t have any difficulty moving on from his college athletic career. The men’s basketball guard has been named a 2017-18 CoSIDA Second Team Academic All-American based on his 4.0 grade point average.
Adams was one of just 16 players named an Academic All-American by the program sponsored by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
The Winston-Salem native graduated from CCU in three years with a degree in Economics and Finance and has already accepted a job with Stephens, Inc., of Little Rock, Ark., one of the top privately held financial services companies in the nation.