Before last week, Coastal Carolina sophomore right-hander Andrew Beckwith had made 54 career appearances out of the bullpen without a start.
Since then? Well, all Beckwith has done in his first two career starts is allow a total of three runs over 16 1/3 innings while keying two important victories for the Chanticleers.
With the No. 2-seeded Chants facing an NCAA Regionals elimination game Saturday against No. 4 Texas Southern, Beckwith threw a career-high 8 1/3 innings while allowing seven hits and only one run to lead Coastal Carolina to a 4-1 win at Blue Bell Park.
That buys the Chants (39-20) another day in the four-team, double-elimination regional – they’ll play Sunday at 1 p.m. EST against host Texas A&M, which lost to California on a walk-off home run in the 14th inning Saturday night – and gives coach Gary Gilmore something to think about as to Beckwith’s future role on the pitching staff.
“He just keeps getting better for a guy we recruited to be a guy that comes in behind some power [arms] to be a change-of-pace guy. He’s really evolved into a tremendous pitcher for us,” Gilmore said. “... We needed that performance today. That was huge.”
Coastal Carolina entered the day trying to shake off a 9-3 loss it sustained against California in the opening game of the regional, and a pivotal first inning seemed to give the Chants and Beckwith an early boost.
Texas Southern (31-19) looked poised to take early control of the game in the bottom of the first when it loaded the bases with one out after Ryan Lazo was hit by a pitch, Christopher Scroggins singled to right field and Robert Garza reached on a bunt after a throwing error from freshman catcher Matt Beaird.
But Javier Valdez missed on what appeared to be a squeeze bunt play as Lazo was caught halfway down the third base line and eventually tagged out. Beckwith then got Valdez to bounce out to first to escape the jam.
“That’s who we are. We’re a team that we’ve got to take risks, we’ve got to take chances,” Tigers coach Michael Robertson said. “And most of the season, we executed, but today we didn’t. What it was was a fake squeeze steal.”
Said Gilmore: “After watching the game yesterday and the scouting report, we knew that young man was a guy that shows push or drag [bunt] almost every at-bat and he does it early in the at-bat. So we threw a breaking ball to try to get him to miss it and he did, and we were fortunate enough to catch them in a suicide squeeze or whatever and that was a huge play for us.”
And that was pretty much the only trouble Beckwith encountered until the very end.
Through the next six innings, Beckwith faced the minimum 18 batters while getting a pickoff to negate one single and a double play to erase another. He gave up a pair of two-out singles in the eighth, but escaped that frame unscathed as well before Texas Southern finally broke through in the bottom of the ninth.
Lazo led off with a double to left, Scroggins walked and Garza delivered an RBI single up the middle to make it 4-1. Beckwith got the next batter out before the Chants summoned freshman Bobby Holmes out of the bullpen with runners on second and third, and he closed out the win with two quick outs.
As for Beckwith, the ninth inning did nothing to diminish his sterling performance.
The sophomore righty had been one of Coastal Carolina’s most trusted bullpen arms the last two seasons before being thrust into a starting role last week in the Big South semifinals for lack of any better options. He went eight innings in that game while allowing only two runs in a win.
So with the Chants’ top two starters – sophomore Alex Cunningham and senior Austin Kerr – no longer options in the rotation due to injury, Beckwith got the call again Saturday and was even better. He finished with five strikeouts and one walk while throwing 109 pitches.
“The older guys last night after hearing I was was starting, they said, ‘We’ve got to save our pen; you’ve got to go nine for us,’” Beckwith said. “They were joking a little bit, but we needed it. We needed the performance.”
All the while, the Chants were taking care of business at the plate, too.
Sophomore Michael Paez blasted a solo home run to left – his eighth of the season – with two outs in the third to stake Coastal Carolina to a 1-0 lead.
“I got down in the count early so I was just choked up trying to get something in play,” he said. “… He threw a slider a little low the pitch before as well and I hooked it foul and he went back to it so I just stayed back a little more, kept my hands back and I didn’t think I got it, but I’m glad I did.”
In the fourth, juniors Zach Remillard and Tyler Chadwick ripped back-to-back one-out doubles for another run, sophomore Jack Curtis followed with an RBI single to right-center and junior Anthony Marks later made it 4-0 on an opposite-field single through the left side.
On that play, Texas Southern third baseman Horace Leblanc was not covering the bag so freshman Josh Crump went first to third on the hit and then tried to score as the Tigers’ throw to first to catch Marks off the bag hit him. It looked like Crump slid safely into home, but he was called out to end the inning.
It didn’t matter. With the way Beckwith was pitching, the Chants had all the runs they would need.
Beckwith improved to 6-4 with the win and lowered his earned-run average to 3.26 while Felix Gomez (4-3) took the loss for Texas Southern, which ends its season.
Sophomore G.K. Young was 2-for-4 for the Chants while Marks, Paez, Chadwick and Curtis each had a hit and an RBI. Meanwhile, junior Connor Owings crushed two long foul balls down the right field line that just missed being home runs and Curtis hammered one just foul down the left field line.
In general, Coastal Carolina was much more effective at the plate after managing just four hits Friday in that opening loss to California.
“Our mindset today was just to be aggressive and hopefully it would work out, and it did,” Paez said.
The Chants still have a lot of work to do, though.
To make it out of the regional and into the NCAA Super Regionals, Coastal Carolina needs to win two games Sunday – one against the losing team from Saturday night and one against the remaining undefeated team – to force a winner-take-all game Monday.
“If we play and pitch and do things we’re capable of, we’ll compete with whoever it is we face tomorrow. It’s not a big deal,” Gilmore said.
His theme for the week has been wanting his players to be “junkyard dogs.” He was asked after the win Saturday if they did a better job with that.
“The one thing about being junkyard dogs is having a lot of confidence. And winning today at least we can relax a teeny bit,” Gilmore said. “We didn’t have anybody on our roster that’s ever won a regional game. That’s a big part of this whole thing, believing that you can do it, that you belong here, and I think we’ll be a better team tomorrow than we were today.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.
Who | No. 2-seed Coastal Carolina vs. No. 1 Texas A&M
When | 1 p.m. EST
Where | Texas A&M’s Blue Bell Park, College Station, Texas
What | The Chanticleers play an elimination game with the host Aggies. If they win that, they’ll play California Sunday night to try to force a winner-take-all finale Monday.
TV/Internet | ESPN3.com
Radio | WSEA-FM 100.3