Chants sweep doubleheader
It’s too early to know, but this could potentially be the weekend the Coastal Carolina baseball team looks back on as a turning point of sorts after an up-and-down start to the season.
The Chanticleers swept a doubleheader Sunday with a 12-4 win over Illinois and a 7-4 victory over UNC Greensboro at Springs Brooks Stadium to run their winning streak to a season-high three games and pick up their fourth win in the last five overall.
The offense rapped out 20 hits over the two games Sunday, including five home runs, and the pitchers racked up 23 strikeouts in a thoroughly encouraging performance for Coastal Carolina (10-7).
“I was just really happy with the way we played the last two days,” senior right fielder Connor Owings said. “We threw the ball really well, we swung the bats really well and we played defense really well. We’ve been doing two out of three really well at times and then we don’t do one really well and it hurts us. It’s really good to do every aspect of the game well and get three big ones for us.”
Owings hits his first two home runs of the season – one in each game – while senior Zach Remillard hit his team-leading seventh homer in the opening game and juniors G.K. Young and Michael Paez also went deep for the Chants against the Illini (6-7).
For the day overall, senior Anthony Marks was 4-for-8 with two runs scored, Young was 3-for-7 with four RBIs and two runs, sophomore Seth Lancaster went 3-for-8 with an RBI and three runs, Remillard finished 3-for-9 with three RBIs and two runs and Owings and Paez also tallied three RBIs and three runs each.
“It just shows that we have some really good things in there,” Chants coach Gary Gilmore said.
In all areas, as Owings said.
Senior right-hander Tyler Poole (3-1) kept his strong season rolling while holding Illinois to six hits, one walk and two runs over five innings along with a career-best seven strikeouts.
The Chants jumped on top with four runs in the bottom of the first inning of that game and led the rest of the way. Remillard and senior Tyler Chadwick got the scoring started with RBI doubles and Lancaster later added an RBI single to set the tone in that opening frame.
Owings then led off the third with a solo shot to right, Young clubbed a two-run shot to left-center in the fourth, sophomore Billy Cooke chipped in an RBI single in the seventh and Paez delivered a three-run homer and Remillard a solo shot for a four-run eighth to further distance the Chants on the scoreboard.
Senior reliever Mike Morrison shut the door on that win with five strikeouts over 2 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and one walk while ensuring there would be no comeback as the Chants beat Illinois for the second time in as many days.
I don’t know about turning point – nothing really to turn around from. We just had a streak of bad luck. We’re a good ball team, we really are. We’re just going to try to keep the momentum going and hopefully everything works out down the road.
CCU pitcher Alex Cunningham
The second half of the double-header started the opposite way when UNC Greensboro (11-5) took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Freshman right-hander Jason Bilous loaded the bases with no outs on a walk, single and hit by pitch before yielding an RBI sacrifice fly to Collin Woody and allowing another run home on a wild pitch.
Bilous didn’t allow any further runs, though, before ending his day after three innings, having given up four hits, four walks and two earned runs with three strikeouts.
In the meanwhile, the Coastal Carolina bats were again taking care of business at the plate, scoring in each of the first four innings to take control of the game.
Remillard hit an RBI double in the bottom of the first and the Chants tied the game at 2-2 in the second when Woody uncorked a high throw from third on a would-be inning-ending groundout by senior David Parrett.
The real breakthrough came in the third when Owings clubbed a two-run opposite-field homer to left to put the Chants ahead and continue his big day.
And a sac bunt from Parrett and a sac fly from Young in the fourth pushed the lead to 6-2.
As for Owings, the power surge was a nice development from a player who hit 13 homers over the last two seasons.
“We just preach being on time and being on the barrel, and I felt like I’ve been like that all year and it kind of hadn’t [produced the results] yet. But it’s good to get on the board. I’m trying to chase Zach and G.K,” Owings said.
Remillard’s seven homers and Young’s four lead the team, but Owings is a key run producer the Chants are counting on this season and Gilmore said the coaching staff has recently worked with him on some adjustments at the plate.
“I was so happy for him,” Gilmore said. “All of us spent a whole lot of time the last several days studying film and doing some things, and it’s nice when you kind of beg a guy to buy into something whose a senior – sometimes it’s hard for them to change who they are a little bit – and it was nice to see him buy into it and get those hits those other way. That’s such a huge thing. If he gets to the point where he can do that, he’ll be a very good draft pick guy and a huge RBI guy for us.”
The other very encouraging sign Sunday was the performance by junior righty Alex Cunningham (2-1), who pitched six innings of relief to earn the win against UNC Greensboro. Projected as the team’s ace starter this season, Cunningham got off to a rough start this season and took an inflated 7.88 earned-run average into the day before allowing only two runs on five hits and two walks to go along with seven strikeouts.
“Obviously I struggled my first couple outings so it was good to get the confidence back, good to get that dog mentality back, good to get out there and compete and we’re just going to try to keep it going,” Cunningham said. “... To tell you the truth, it was a mentality. I really don’t know what was going through my head – I’ve never dealt with the mental part of the game like that – so just talking with Coach [Drew] Thomas, talking with our strength coach, trying to get the mentality right, like I say, get that dog mentality. And I came out with it today.”
Cunningham actually went 2-0 this week while picking up the win in relief against Wake Forest on Wednesday as well. His ERA for the week was a sterling 1.93 over 9 1/3 innings with 12 strikeouts and four walks, and Gilmore is hopeful to move him back to the weekend rotation this coming week or next.
“He was very good. Like I said early on, we have no shot of winning our league much less competing in a regional with a chance to win if that young man isn’t the main guy for us,” Gilmore said.
The win over UNC Greensboro evened the teams for the week after the Spartans took the first meeting Friday.
The three games above .500, meanwhile, matches the high-water mark for the Chants so far this season, and if they can build on this momentum all of those lofty preseason goals still remain within reach.
But Cunningham, for one, didn’t like the notion of putting too much big-picture emphasis on the results of the weekend.
“I don’t know about turning point – nothing really to turn around from. We just had a streak of bad luck,” he said. “We’re a good ball team, we really are. We’re just going to try to keep the momentum going and hopefully everything works out down the road.”