The Coastal Carolina baseball team and its supporters had to feel good as Texas A&M went 14 innings Saturday night in a loss to California before having to turn around and face the Chanticleers in an elimination game early Sunday afternoon.
It was as good a scenario as the Chants could have hoped for while trying to work their way through the losers’ bracket of this NCAA Regional, but in reality none of that mattered.
It was the host and top-seeded Aggies who looked fresh and fired up Sunday while outplaying Coastal Carolina in every phase of the game on the way to an 8-1 win before a supportive crowd of 4,989 at Blue Bell Park.
Texas A&M (47-12) got 7 2/3 scoreless innings from right-hander Andrew Vinson (5-2), who allowed only five hits, three walks and collected eight strikeouts in just his second start of the season.
Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina (39-21) looked like it just ran out of gas.
“One of the things we talk about all the time is simply making plays. There were a lot of opportunities to make plays that we didn’t make that A&M made,” Chants coach Gary Gilmore said. “You’ve got to give them credit. After a loss like the one they went through last night, to come back out here, they had bounce in their step and it’s nice to know you have a guy like Vinson to go to. He was outstanding. He was the difference in the game.”
The Chants made three errors in the field and never really mounted a serious threat after falling behind early.
Freshman right-hander Bobby Holmes (4-1) made the start and ran into quick trouble as Texas A&M put up two runs with two outs in the bottom of the first inning on an RBI single by Logan Taylor and an RBI double from Nick Banks.
That opening frame was representative of Gilmore’s frustrations throughout the game Sunday.
Ryne Birk had got the Aggies going with a one-out bloop toward right field that junior Connor Owings tried to make a diving play on, instead letting it bounce past him allowing Birk to reach second. The Chants then had a chance to catch Birk too far off the bag after a pitch, but freshman catcher Matt Beaird – starting in place of injured junior Casey Schroeder – hesitated and didn’t get the throw to second in time.
“I thought Bobby did a good job for a freshman in a tough situation for him. That’s really not his role here, but we didn’t help him at all,” Gilmore said. “We misplayed a ball in right field in the first inning and then we had a chance to back-pick the guy at second base, he’s hung out to dry and it’s very frustrating. Poor Matty’s having to be back there because Schroeder’s not there and he had two opportunities to pick guys off that were very easy pick-offs that he didn’t react to and both of those guys scored. It’s kind of how we were all day long today, in my mind. Just a step out of where we needed to be.”
Holmes settled down a bit after that and gave up only one hit over the next two innings before giving up a home run to Banks to start the bottom of the fourth. And after yielding an opposite-field single to Banks to start the bottom of the sixth, he found yet more trouble when Logan Nottebrok crushed a two-run homer off the base of the scoreboard in left to make it a 5-0 game.
Banks symbolized the Aggies’ resilience after that 14-inning loss Saturday as he had a potential go-ahead homer robbed at the wall in the 11th and then had California’s walk-off homer later elude his reach in left field.
“I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, it was a quick turnover this morning,” Banks said. “Baseball’s a humbling sport so I [was] just ready to rebound today and couldn’t wait to get back to the field.”
Junior reliever Mike Morrison got the Chants out of a jam in the seventh, inheriting the bases loaded with one out before picking up a strikeout and a diving play by sophomore shortstop Michael Paez for an inning-ending groundout.
But the Aggies’ lead would nonetheless swell an inning later with three more runs – all charged to Morrison – and Coastal Carolina simply wasn’t effective enough at the plate to mount any threat of a comeback.
Junior Tyler Chadwick led off the fifth with a double to the right-center field gap, but Vinson struck out sophomore Jack Curtis and Beaird in succession before getting freshman Josh Crump to ground out.
Vinson worked around lead-off singles in the sixth and seventh innings as well. Junior Anthony Marks and Paez hit back-to-back singles with two outs in the eighth to finally force Vinson out of the game, but reliever Ty Schlottmann came in and struck out junior Connor Owings to end the inning.
“He was just keeping us off balance using all of his pitches,” Marks said of Vinson. “We had a good report going in, we knew we were going to get a lot of sliders and breaking balls, but he was just putting them where he wanted them and when he got ahead burying them and making them tough pitches to hit or even fight off for us.
“We usually can grind out some ABs and make people work. We made him throw pitches, but he was just making better ones. Every time he’d make one and we’d fight it off he’d just make a better pitch. You’ve got to tip your hat to him.”
Coastal Carolina finally broke through in the final frame, loading the bases with no outs on walks by sophomore G.K. Young, junior Zach Remillard and a pinch-hit single by freshman Kevin Woodall. Junior David Parrett drove one run in on a pinch-hit fielder’s choice groundout, but Beaird hit into a double play to end it.
Marks was 2-for-4 for the Chants, while Banks was 3-for-3 with two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored and Nottebrok was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and one run to lead Texas A&M.
Coastal Carolina was making its 13th NCAA Regionals appearance in 15 years while marking its return after a one-year absence.
For the Chants, it was a successful bounce-back season by any measure after bottoming out with a 24-33 finish last year, but nonetheless it has come to an end.
“I thought it was a stepping stone. I thought last year was what it was and I thought this year we got back to the way it was,” Chadwick said. “But we want to be in a super regional and we want to be contending in Omaha. So this was a step in the regional, we got a win under our belt, but this is a stepping stone. We want to get to the next level.”
Gilmore seconded that notion while reiterating that 2015 was only the first step in getting the Chants ready to compete for a spot in the College World Series.
“We’ve made a step back and at least we’re in the mix,” he said. “There’s another big step. We’re not a tiny little [step], one guy’s going to change this deal. We’ve got to get several more pieces of the puzzle. There’s a lot of guys coming back on this team. At least they got to experience this and have a chance to win a game here.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.