Coastal talks about a wild walk-off win over UT Arlington
Zach Biermann had to dress himself before exiting the field at Springs Brooks Stadium late Friday night.
His uniform was nearly ripped off him in jubilation by teammates, but he’s going to have to have one ready for play Saturday, because the Chanticleers have at least one more game to play.
Biermann’s third home run of the game was a walk-off in the 10th inning, giving the resilient Chants a 14-13 win over Texas-Arlington to continue their season in the Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship and eliminate the fourth-seeded Mavericks.
“I just don’t want to go home. I don’t want to say goodbye to these guys,” Biermann said. “So we’ve got to win games and you have to do whatever you can.”
The host and fifth-seeded Chants overcame an 8-3 deficit through five innings Friday and a game-tying grand slam with two outs in the top of the ninth to be one of four teams remaining in the tournament.
“I think the true Coastal Carolina baseball player is coming out of them,” CCU coach Gary Gilmore said. “I think some of them are even surprising themselves because there are guys buying in way deeper right now than they’ve ever bought into the whole deal in their whole career and it shows. They keep battling.”
Coastal (32-24-1) will have to defeat 10th-seeded Louisiana-Monroe (27-29) twice Saturday to advance to Sunday’s championship game. The first game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and the second elimination game would be scheduled for either 4 or 7:30 p.m. depending on the other semifinal matchup between No. 2 Georgia Southern and No. 3 Little Rock.
The Chants will play at 4 p.m. if Georgia Southern wins the 9 a.m. start and remains unbeaten in the tournament to advance to Sunday’s championship game.
Coastal’s potent offense again carried the team. Coastal had 17 hits and five home runs, as junior catcher Kyle Skeels hit two dingers. His second blast – a three-run homer in the seventh – gave the Chants their first lead of the game at 10-9.
“I’ve been a college coach for 34 years, including the [2016 College] World Series games and things like that, that right there has to rank right up there with some of the most incredible performances by individuals as well as a team to show resiliency,” Gilmore said. “Giving up that two-out grand slam, to just not completely collapse after having done things like that so many times during the year, I was very proud of them.”
Biermann’s three homers ties a CCU single-game record dating back to 1999, and ties a Sun Belt tournament record from 2002. The 2018 Sun Belt tournament MVP has five home runs in the past two games and 17 on the season.
His four hits, four RBI and four runs scored helped atone for a pair of errors on a ground ball and popup that contributed to CCU’s deficits through 6 1/2 innings.
“It always hurts when you let your teammates down and you don’t pick your pitchers up when they make pitches,” Biermann said. “But it felt really good to help the team win at the end of the day because that’s what it’s all about this time of year is winning games. You do anything you can to win a game so it felt really good at the end of the game.”
Coastal’s starting lineup Friday included eight players batting over .300, and the offense has allowed the Chants to overcome deficiencies and mistakes.
Coastal made four errors and walked six Mavericks, giving CCU a total of eight errors and 18 walks allowed in three games in the tournament, while also allowing 26 runs and 36 hits.
But Coastal has pounded out 35 runs and 47 hits.
Coastal trailed 7-2 through two innings, after which the Mavericks already had nine hits.
Sophomore Zach McCambley started but recorded just one out before being pulled after giving up three runs on a pair of singles, a double, walk and two-run home run by Andrew Miller.
Senior Matt Eardensohn, who threw 28 pitches in 2/3 of an inning Wednesday, entered and induced a double-play grounder to end the threat, but he was unable to get through the second inning.
Eardensohn recorded two outs in the second, but gave up five singles and was hurt by his own error on an errant pickoff throw and error by Biermann, leading to two unearned runs. Freshman Garrett McDaniels of Nichols struck out Dylan Paul to end the inning.
McDaniels allowed the Chants to come back by throwing a career-high five innings and allowing two runs – one earned – on three hits and four walks with a career-high six strikeouts. McDaniels didn’t pitch between March 30 and May 14 because of a shoulder issue.
“I thought pitching-wise the turning point of the game was McDaniels stepping up and giving us five innings,” Gilmore said. “That was huge. He was a difference in the game for us on the pitcher’s mound.”
After UTA scored three in the first inning, Biermann temporarily pulled the Chants within a run with a two-run homer into the parking lot beyond the right field fence. A Jake Wright RBI infield single in the third pulled the Chants within four runs after UTA posted four in the second.
After UTA took an 8-3 lead with a run in the fourth on a walk, steal and RBI single, the Chants pulled within three runs in the sixth on a Skeels two-run homer to left that plated Cory Wood, who had singled. The Chants loaded the bases with two outs later in the sixth but Morgan Hyde struck out on a 3-2 fastball from reliever Wyatt Divis.
A pair of errors in the seventh, including a dropped popup with two outs by Biermann, led to an unearned run for UTA.
The Chants took an 11-9 lead with six runs in the bottom of the seventh – five coming before UTA recorded an out. Wood singled, Kieton Rivers walked, Wright doubled home two runs, Biermann singled and Skeels crushed a three-run homer to left-center field. The Chants added a run on a squeeze bunt by Hyde after singles by Scott McKeon and Mike Koenig.
After reliever Jay Causey gave up a walk and single and was 2-0 on his third batter in the eighth, he was replaced by Dylan Gentry, who struck out the batter he inherited on three consecutive strikes and got out of trouble with a line-drive double play.
Coastal added a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth on consecutive doubles by Rivers and Wright, who was thrown out at third trying to stretch the hit to a triple with no outs, and Biermann’s second home run. Gentry finished off the game to get the win for the Chants despite allowing Will Olson’s grand slam in the ninth.
“It’s a heart attack. It’s a roller coaster. I feel like I’m at Six Flags right now,” Skeels said of the game’s ebbs and flows.
UTA starter Ka’ikepono Anderson of Hawaii kept the Chants off-balance with pitches between 55 and 90 mph, though both homers he allowed came off fastballs and he was chased after 5 2/3 following Skeels’ first homer and a Parker Chavers single. “That soft-tossing righthander was frustrating us . . . but I felt good if we could ever get him out of the game,” Gilmore said.
The Chants are thin on pitching. Junior Austin Kitchen, who has thrown 64 innings with a 6.05 earned-run average, and redshirt freshman Kiernan Higgins, who hasn’t allowed a run in just 4 2/3 innings this season, are the team’s two rested pitchers. They will likely both pitch in Saturday’s first game.
“We’re like anybody that’s in this position. You’re kind of taking volunteers from here on out. Who can give you an inning without putting their health in jeopardy?” Gilmore said.
Sophomore outfielder Jake Wright was a pitcher in high school and junior outfielder Morgan Hyde pitched in each of the past two seasons at the Division III and junior college levels while also playing the field. So they are possibilities in desperation.
“Anything can happen if we can win game one, when everything’s riding on it from that point on it will be interesting to see,” Gilmore said. “. . . I’m not going to complain about their will to win.”