While he was disappointed and frustrated by the offensive and defensive shortcomings he saw from his Coastal Carolina baseball team Friday, coach Gary Gilmore reiterated that he believes the Chanticleers are still very much a factor in this NCAA Regional.
If they come to play, that is.
The No. 2-seeded Chants (38-20) will play No. 4 Texas Southern (31-18) – which earned a berth from winning the SWAC – at 1 p.m. EST Saturday in an elimination game at Blue Bell Park.
“It’s only over for us if the 35 kids I brought on that airplane decide it’s over. Simple as that. This is not over if they don’t want it to be over,” Gilmore said to conclude his postgame news conference.
The Chants, who managed just four hits in a 9-3 loss to No. 3-seed California on Friday in the teams’ regional opener, now need to win Saturday, win two games Sunday and another Monday to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals.
Coastal Carolina, making its 13th NCAA Regionals appearance in the last 15 years, also opened regional play with a loss in their last two postseason opportunities. In 2012, the Chants bounced back with one win before being eliminated by Clemson, and in 2013 they were eliminated after going 0-2. They last advanced to Super Regionals round in 2010.
“For me personally, having been to several of these things, if I’m going to play bad and we’re going to lose and whatever, I’d rather lose this game,” Gilmore said. “Because we get to play a [team] that loses [Friday night] and has to get up in the morning. And if we were to win tomorrow, the same thing happens to the other team that plays in the game tomorrow night. They have to get up in the morning and play us. We’ve been there several times where we’ve won game one and then that huge emotional letdown [comes] the next day. You get back up and you’ve still got a hangover and that other team just won a game, they have more rest than you.”
In the six previous times the Chants lost the first game in NCAA Regional play (including 1991, before Gilmore took over), they have never won more than one game before being eliminated.
“I know for us to make a run, we’re going to have some guys need to step up, we’re going to have to swing the bats,” junior first baseman Tyler Chadwick said. “That’s pretty much as simple as that. We’ve got to swing the bats, got to put some runs up.”
Although Gilmore suggested Thursday that sophomore right-hander Alex Cunningham (forearm tendinitis) might be ready to return from injury and start Friday, he ultimately went with freshman left-hander Shane Sawczak instead.
Asked after the game what changed, Gilmore said the determination was made after seeing Cunningham toss the ball Friday morning that he wasn’t ready to start and is best saved for a potential short relief role.
“He’s at best going to be a one-inning guy at this point in time,” Gilmore said. “We hoped we could get more, but after early this morning playing catch a little bit, to risk is not worth it.”
Cal coach David Esquer said the Golden Bears were prepared for either scenario and were familiar with Sawczak from their scouting.
“We were kind of ready for both, really,” Esquer said. “I knew they were hoping that Cunningham could start. I know he’s the guy that usually would pitch on Friday, but we knew that Sawczak [could] pitch. I knew he beat a good Florida State team, so I knew he had some confidence he could beat good people. And we’ve seen a lot of lefties, we’ve got some quality ones in our league, so we were ready for either one.”
Schroeder likely done
Asked if junior catcher Casey Schroeder (back) will be able to return to action this weekend, Gilmore said, “I seriously doubt it” – a change in tune from the more optimistic projection the coach had offered a day earlier.
“I don’t see a whole lot of hope in that at this point,” Gilmore said. “He’s trying all he can, but you can’t change Mother Nature. It’s a two-week to four-week injury and, heck, he’s been out like six days, seven days. I think we’re asking for divine intervention at this point in time. So we’ll see.”
Schroeder, who injured himself in the Big South tournament last week when a rib injury triggered issues in his back, leads the team with 13 home runs and was the Chants’ primary catcher all season, starting 53 games.
Who’s on the mound?
Gilmore said after the loss Friday that he hadn’t yet thought about who would take the mound Saturday for Coastal Carolina.
“No earthly idea. It’s like the last six weeks, we’ll figure it out tonight and do the best we can,” he said. “But we have to hit. We have to hit and defend. Those are the two things we didn’t do today.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.