Senior Zach Biermann leading CCU into NCAA regional
Being a team player at Coastal Carolina isn’t something Zach Biermann has had to work on.
It comes naturally, and it comes from his father.
Three years ago, Biermann’s father, Mark, who was a manual laborer who worked largely on homes, had surgery on his back, during which a rod was placed along the vertebrae.
During his rehabilitation the rod snapped, Biermann said, breaking several bones and damaging nerves in his spinal cord. His father can still walk, but needs a walker or cane, and is considered permanently disabled.
Through his entire ordeal, however, he has remained an example of selflessness.
“He told me after it happened, ‘Do what you can do to play baseball as long as you can, because you never know when that is going to be taken away from you, and I don’t want to be the reason you have to come home and do all this stuff for me,’ “ Biermann said. “I’ll help him with certain things when I need to and when I can, but he’s been really good at being on his own.
“He’s got a lot of support everywhere. My whole family is like that. They’ll be there for each other no matter what.”
Biermann was away focusing on baseball at a community college at the time of his father’s accident, and his father kept his plight from him for a while. “He didn’t really want to tell me it happened because he didn’t want me to worry about it and stop everything,” Biermann. “That’s how selfless a person he is. That’s where I like to think I get a lot of that from is from my family. The way I think about things in this world is from them.”
His father has become a source of Biermann’s drive, and he calls him when he needs a sounding board or advice.
“He’s my motivation to live every day because something could be taken from you that day,” Biermann said. “… He hasn’t changed as a person at all, which is the best part. He’s the best dad in the world. I wouldn’t trade him for anything. This has just made him and myself stronger through the whole thing.”
Biermann has become a team leader on and off the field during his senior season, displaying the virtues exemplified by his father.
“He’s not a person I ever have to worry about,” CCU coach Gary Gilmore said. “He’s one of the most responsible, great young men I’ve ever coached. That kid has been through a lot.”
Biermann, who is a solid 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, is once again playing his best when it matters the most as the Chanticleers head into this weekend’s NCAA Atlanta Regional hosted by Georgia Tech. Coastal (35-24-1), the third seed, opens with second-seeded Auburn (33-25) at noon Friday and the host Yellow Jackets (41-17) face Florida A&M (27-32) later Friday.
Biermann has played in all 60 CCU games and is batting .309 this season with team highs in home runs (17) and RBIs (76). He also has 11 doubles among his 77 hits in a team-high 249 at-bats.
“Even though the first probably 35-40 games for him were kind of average,” Gilmore said, “his last 20 games he’s been insanely good, probably one of the better hitters in the country the last 20 games.”
In last week’s Sun Belt Conference tournament, he had 10 hits and 11 RBIs in six games and hit five home runs, including a walk-off in extra innings.
Biermann batted .302 last year in his first season with the Chants and was third in the Sun Belt in home runs with 13, trailing only his two former teammates, Seth Lancaster and Kevin Woodall Jr., who paced the conference and ranked in the top 10 nationally with 20 and 19 homers, respectively.
Much like this season, he caught fire late and was named the Sun Belt tournament Most Outstanding Player. He knocked in 18 runs in CCU’s seven combined Sun Belt tournament and NCAA Conway Regional games while raising his batting average 18 points after the regular season.
Gilmore believes Biermann has made those around his cleanup spot in the batting order better because of the attention that must be paid to him, and Biermann has attempted to make his teammates better when he’s off the field.
He has sat a few players down for pep talks and insightful chats over the course of this season, including freshmen pitchers Nick Parker, Alaska Abney and Garrett McDaniels of Nichols.
“When I was struggling at the beginning of the year, he sat me down, just talking to keep pushing. Freshman year isn’t always going to be your best year, so just keep pushing and keep working hard,” said McDaniels, who said Biermann is “like a big brother out there,” who becomes more vocal during important moments.
Biermann shares the knowledge he’s absorbed from coaches, former teammates and his own experiences to his younger teammates. It has become the Coastal way.
“I try to do the best I can to just impart a little wisdom that I have, that I’ve learned from other guys,” Biermann said. “It’s not like I know everything or anything like that, it’s just stuff I’m learning as I’m getting older. From when I was a freshman to now, a lot of wisdom has been imparted on me, I’ve taken some, I’ve left some.
“I’ve just tried to tell those guys it’s a long season, especially freshman season. You have three or four more years of college baseball. Don’t take it for granted, enjoy every bit of it, and the struggles are going to come, but they’ll make the successes that much more sweet.”
Biermann admits he has to force himself out of character a bit to be a vocal leader, which he says has helped him evolve as a person.
“Zach’s an unbelievable guy. He has a good heart,” said senior outfielder Kieton Rivers, who has been in the program four years. “He’s a very humble guy, always hard working. Probably the hardest worker I’ve seen. He has a good mind for the game and his ability allows him to play it out on the field.”
Biermann is a native of West Bend, Wisconsin. He left his home state to play baseball at Polk State College in Florida because he had only two Division I college offers coming out of high school and wanted to create more opportunities through junior college.
He discovered Coastal by watching them in the 2016 College World Series. Al Corbiel, his coach for two years at Polk State, is a friend of Gilmore and sent catcher Casey Schroeder to the Chanticleers in 2014.
“Al’s a real tough disciplinarian down there so he came in here and kind of hit the ground running,” Gilmore said. “He knew what to expect about hard work and commitment and those types of things. He’s been an outstanding junior college guy for us for two years.”
Biermann learned the CCU baseball culture from the seniors last year and has incorporated a lot of that information into his preparation this season. He learned about playing first base from Woodall, hitting from Lancaster and Lee Sponseller, and approaches and attitudes from all of them.
“Those relationships grew and I got to know a lot about them and their work ethic and what they do on and off the field that made them successful,” Biermann said. “We don’t all hit the same, we have the same philosophy but different ways of getting there so it was kind of cool to learn from them and get a different perspective on everything.”
More to accomplish
The Chants hope to get through a regional for the first time since winning the 2016 national title. They were left out of the NCAA tournament in 2017 and were knocked out of the regional they hosted last year by Washington and Connecticut.
Their chances of making a regional looked bleak last week. After limping into the Sun Belt tournament as the fifth seed with a 12-19 record in their final 31 regular season games, the Chants fell to Texas-Arlington in their Sun Belt tournament opener.
But Biermann and his teammates found gumption within, winning five straight games over four days while setting several Sun Belt tournament offensive records.
“It’s really gratifying because nobody really expected us after the middle of the season to get to this point, especially after the first-round loss everybody was like, ‘It’s going to take a miracle to get these guys to a regional,’ ” Biermann said. “We did it, we got here and it’s just a blessing. I think all the guys realize that and we know we can do this because we’ve been here before, last year we were here, and in 2016 they won it all so it’s like, ‘Don’t count the Chants out.’ ”
Biermann wasn’t necessarily expecting to be a Chant this season. He was considered a Major League Baseball Draft prospect after his junior year but was not one of the four members of the 2018 team to be selected last June. He has put up more numbers as a first baseman and designated hitter to be in position to be drafted this year.
“I was definitely thinking about it and looking at it, but coming back here is not a bad second option at all. It’s definitely a really good backup plan,” Biermann said. “… Being here at Coastal has definitely been a blessing and I get to spend time with these guys again and that’s all you can ask for.”
Game 1 – Noon, Coastal Carolina vs. Auburn
Game 2 – 7 p.m., Florida A&M vs. Georgia Tech
Game 3 – 1 p.m. (Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser)
Game 4 – 7 p.m. (Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner)
Game 5 – Noon, Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser
Game 6 – 6 p.m., Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
Game 7 (if necessary) – Noon, Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser