Coastal Carolina’s season on line in Sun Belt tournament
Coastal Carolina’s baseball season has been a conundrum.
One of the nation’s most consistent programs under coach Gary Gilmore that has reached the NCAA postseason in 15 of the past 18 seasons and won the 2016 national championship has been remarkably inconsistent this season.
The Chanticleers were a top-20 team nationally at 18-4-1 and 5-0 in the Sun Belt Conference on March 23, but are 12-19 in their last 31 games.
They have beaten N.C. State when the Wolfpack were ranked No. 2 in the country, and their losses include a 15-11 setback to Georgia State, which is 15-41 overall and 6-24 in the Sun Belt Conference, two days after defeating the Panthers 27-2.
The Chants have only a week to find some consistency or their season will be over.
Coastal is hosting the Sun Belt Conference Tournament from Tuesday through Sunday at Springs Brooks Stadium, and must win it to avoid missing an NCAA regional for the second time in three seasons.
The Chants, 30-23-1 overall and 15-13 in the conference, are the No. 5 seed and face No. 4 Texas-Arlington (31-24, 17-12) in the double-elimination portion of the tournament at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Texas State (36-18, 20-10) is the top seed.
“Our greatest challenge is the last two months we haven’t been able to string three wins together, and you’ll have to win four or five in a week’s time to get that done,” Gilmore said. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Coastal’s inconsistency was encapsulated in its final conference series of the season at home.
The Chants defeated Appalachian State, which finished the season 22-30 overall and 13-16 in league play to earn the conference’s No. 9 seed, 19-3 Thursday before losing 18-6 on Friday and taking the series with a 9-6 win Saturday.
“Of course the ability is there . . . We haven’t played as a team as well,” said senior relief pitcher Matt Eardensohn, an All-American who is the Chants’ most effective pitcher with an ERA of 3.55, which is sixth in the conference. “I think it comes down to crucial points in games where we kind of let something happen where a big inning happens or something against us.
“Everyone has been super positive and everybody’s on board to turn it around and make something good [happen].”
The Chants have the advantage of being the last team to host the conference tournament before it moves for at least the next five years to Montgomery, Alabama. Coastal is 19-11 at home this season compared to 10-11 on the road and 1-1-1 at a neutral site – T-Mobile Park for the Seattle Baseball Showcase.
The Chants won the Sun Belt regular-season title in each of its first two years in the conference in 2017 and ’18, and won last year’s conference tournament in Lafayette, La.
“Anybody in the world loves playing at home. You can stay in your routine, you get to sleep in your own bed. I think it’s huge for everybody. And a lot of guys have family coming in,” Eardensohn said. “. . . It kind of wasn’t as fun last year because there really wasn’t anybody there rooting for us besides just some parents that came to Lafayette, but I think it will be a great week to have everybody here coming out to support.”
Coastal leads the Sun Belt in team batting average at .300 – Troy is a distant second at .286 – and eight of its nine hitters with at least 100 at-bats are batting .297 or better. The Chants are in the top 25 nationally in numerous offensive categories.
But their team earned-run average is 5.46, which is ninth in the conference and nearly a full run worse than conference-leading Georgia Southern. The Chants are also tied for last in the conference with just seven saves.
Gilmore said the team is lacking a clear No. 1 starter.
“Where is that one guy, and we’ve always had a guy, that just picks the ball up, walks in that locker room and goes, ‘Hey, I’ve got this. You all catch what you’re supposed to catch, score me one run and I’m going to make sure that’s all I need,’ ” Gilmore said. “And we’ve had a guy like that and right now we don’t have a person that every time out shows that confidence and ability to be able to do it. We have people with ability to be a guy like that, we for some reason aren’t able to fulfill that at this point.”
Coastal will have to win four straight games or five of six in order to win the conference title.
“[The inconsistency] is not because the kids aren’t trying, it’s not because the staff isn’t working,” Gilmore said. “. . . At the end of the day so much of it is just simple confidence and I don’t know how you crank someone’s head open and just give them confidence. You have confidence when you’re successful.”
The Chants have won 30 games for the fifth consecutive season, though the fewest they have won in the past four years is 37. Gilmore believes the Chants will need to exhibit confidence and resilience to win the title and continue their season.
“You lose a little bit in this day and age, and the toughness and resilience of people is not what it used to be,” Gilmore said. “A lot of these kids are failing for the first time in their life and they just don’t know how to deal with it. They don’t know how to get out of it and don’t know what to do.”
Sun Belt awards
The conference announced its regular season baseball awards Monday, and Coastal sophomore outfielder and designated hitter Jake Wright was voted the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year and was joined by four teammates on the all-conference team.
Senior first baseman Zach Biermann and sophomore outfielder Parker Chavers were named to the first team and Wright, senior outfielder Kieton Rivers and junior catcher Kyle Skeels were named to the second team by the league’s 12 head coaches.
Wright led the Chants with a .340 average this season, which rose to .396 during league play. He led the conference in on-base percentage (.513) and was ranked in the top eight in batting average, slugging percentage, walks and hit-by-pitches. Wright registered a nine-game hitting streak and reached base safely in 20 straight games.
Game 1: 3 p.m. (ESPN+) - No. 7 South Alabama vs. No. 10 Louisiana-Monroe
Game 2: 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+) - No. 8 Louisiana vs. No. 9 Appalachian State
Game 3: 9 a.m. (ESPN+) - No. 3 Little Rock vs. No. 6 Troy
Game 4: 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+) - No. 2 Georgia Southern vs. 1st Round Winner (High Seed)
Game 5: 4 p.m. (ESPN+) - No. 4 UT Arlington vs. No. 5 Coastal Carolina
Game 6: 7:30 p.m. (ESPN+) - No. 1 Texas State vs. 1st Round Winner (Low Seed)
Game 7: 9 a.m. (ESPN+) - Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4
Game 8: 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+) - Loser Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6
Game 9: 4 p.m. (ESPN+) - Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4
Game 10: 7:30 p.m. (ESPN+) - Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6
Game 11: 3 p.m. (ESPN+) - Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 9
Game 12: 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+) - Winner Game 8 vs. Loser Game 10
Game 13: 9 a.m. (ESPN+) - Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 11
Game 14: 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+) - Winner Game 10 vs. Winner Game 12
*Game 15: 4 p.m. (ESPN+) - Winner Game 13 vs. Loser Game 13 (if necessary)
#Game 16: 7:30 p.m. ^ (ESPN+) - Winner Game 14 vs. Loser Game 14 (if necessary)
Championship game: 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
* Game 15 is necessary if the winner of Game 11 also wins Game 13.
# Game 16 is necessary if the winner of Game 12 also wins Game 14.
^ If Game 15 is not necessary and Game 16 is necessary, Game 16 shall begin 75 minutes after the conclusion of Game 14.