Seth Lancaster’s numbers at the plate last year are a glaring indication something was wrong.
He went from batting .326 as a sophomore to .250 as a junior.
He just wasn’t seeing the ball well at the plate. In fact, he wasn’t seeing much at all out of his right eye.
An alarming condition developed in the eye that had Lancaster concerned about not only his baseball career, but his life moving forward. “I thought I’d never be able to see again,” Lancaster said.
He got pink eye in what is the left-handed hitter’s front eye in the batter’s box midway through last season and it developed into a viral infection in his cornea. Attempts to put in contacts resulted in blurry vision for a couple days, and by the time he went to get sports glasses the vision had greatly deteriorated.
Lasik surgery last July alleviated both his concerns and his struggles at the plate. “Ever since then it’s been perfect,” he said. “Just being able to see the baseball like I grew up seeing it, like I did freshman year and sophomore year, is kind of a comfort thing and obviously gives you confidence.”
The impact his improved vision has had is perfectly clear. The Hanahan native is among the top hitters in the country, ranking in the top 20 in three offensive categories and in the top 100 in eight.
“Without him having the type of year he’s had, we’d be a very average team,” Coastal head coach Gary Gilmore said. “. . . His season here has to be one of the better all-around senior seasons we’ve had a young man have here since I’ve been here. It’s along the same type of level as [Zach] Remillard and [Connor] Owings, guys we’ve had who have had incredible senior years. I really don’t even want to think about what it would be like if he wasn’t here.”
Lancaster entered the Sun Belt tournament ranked third in the nation in runs scored with 69, sixth with 53 walks and 22nd in the NCAA with 16 home runs. In Coastal’s wins in its first two tournament games over Texas-Arlington and South Alabama, Lancaster has added two home runs, three walks and six runs scored to go with four RBI.
He was named First Team All-Sun Belt at shortstop and was the only player to rank among the Sun Belt top 10 in the following categories: first in walks (53), second in runs scored (69), second in home runs (16), second in slugging percentage (.627), third in total bases (126), fifth in RBI (50), fifth in doubles (17), fifth in stolen bases (22) and seventh in on-base percentage (.448).
He finished the regular season with a .303 batting average, and he ranks third on the all-time CCU career list with 139 walks, seventh with 32 home runs, 12th with 159 runs scored and 14th with 52 stolen bases.
“I’m just continuing to work hard and trying to show up every day with the same mindset,” Lancaster said. “With the coaches we have and teammates I have, it’s real easy to come to work every day and have a good mindset, and that’s just a big part of hitting, big part of baseball.”
Lancaster entered the tournament hot. On the final day of the regular season Saturday, when the Chants had to play 22 innings at Appalachian State to finish one game and play two more, he went 6-for-9, tied a CCU record with three home runs in a game and established a career-high with six RBI in a game.
He has produced valuable hits for the Chants, with walk-off home runs this season against Ohio State and Louisiana-Monroe, and he has been consistent, reaching base in 52 of 57 games and completing a stretch in late March of reaching base in 31 consecutive games.
“I’m not really trying to worry about me and my numbers, I’m trying to help the team as much as I can and last year I felt like I let the team down a lot,” Lancaster said. “I was supposed to be a leader coming off 2016 and was there the whole time and knew what it took. Not being able to put up the numbers like [Kevin Woodall Jr.] kind of bothered me and put a little chip on my shoulder for this year.”
Lancaster, along with fellow senior Woodall, is one of the most cerebral hitters on the team. Gilmore said the two will often be able to identify what pitchers are throwing based on idiosyncrasies and relay the information to teammates.
“Both of these two guys are tireless workers, they’re students of the game, they’re throwback players,” Gilmore said. “ . . . To find people who not only enjoy playing, but they enjoy watching the game, studying it, they enjoy the intricacies, the little things that my generation enjoyed watching that this generation has kind of lost through SportsCenter and all that other stuff.”
Lancaster played predominantly at second base in 2016, third base last season and shortstop this season, and despite the movement he ranks sixth all-time at CCU in assists with 449.
He was a shortstop in high school and considers that his ideal position. “I’ve always wanted to play shortstop in college,” Lancaster said. “I always thought I could and I’m finally getting that chance now. It’s where the team needs me so I’ll go there. I’ll go play left field if they need me to play left field, it doesn’t matter. But shortstop is the most fun for me.”
In addition to batting .326 during CCU’s 2016 national championship season, Lancaster had 11 doubles, seven home runs, 44 runs scored and 35 RBI in 63 games that season.
He was instrumental in getting the Chants to a Super Regional at LSU, but a knee injury suffered in the first game in Baton Rouge ended his season and he was relegated to providing support for his teammates during the College World Series. Specifically, helping Cameron Pearcey as his replacement at second base at LSU and Tyler Chadwick as his replacement for the World Series.
“The group of guys we had on that team, I never really felt sorry for myself like a lot of people expected me to,” Lancaster said. “. . . I never really was bummed out or upset about not playing. Obviously I want to have that experience, but just being there with those guys, that group of seniors that left us that year was special. It’s one of my most cherished memories and it will be for the rest of my life.”
He says missing the World Series isn’t extra motivation this season.
“It’s actually no motivation whatsoever more than I have originally,” he said. “I’m just trying to be a leader for these young guys. When us seniors leave this year we want to leave a legacy just like those 2016 guys did. We always talk about the guys from ’16, us seniors do. We just want to do what those guys did for us. They did so much for us on the field and off the field and taught us how to be Coastal baseball players and be men.”
His impact on the Coastal baseball program extends off the field. Lancaster, who graduated earlier this month with a history degree, is a regular participant in devotionals made available to the team on the road by conditioning coach Nick White.
“He’s just been a great teammate to guys. He just has a feel for when a player needs a hug and a pat on the back,” Gilmore said.
“He’s really come to be a guy that is an icon for this program with who he is, what he stands for, in the locker room, off the field,” Gilmore continued. “He’s become that young man that every dad, regardless of how good they play on the field, the one thing you want people to see in your son is this incredible person, this giver, this guy that gives more to the world than he takes away, and that’s who this guy is.”