After playing six games last week and with the team’s first Big South series looming this weekend, Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore didn’t want to tax his bullpen yet again in a midweek trip to UNC Wilmington on Wednesday.
But with the Chanticleers clinging to a one-run lead in the sixth inning and with the offense not as crisp as it’s been of late, it seemed the Chants weren’t going to win this game without a sterling performance from the relief corps.
Enter Andrew Beckwith. The junior right-hander took over on the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning with a runner on second and two outs and proceeded to retire all 10 batters he faced while closing out an eventual 6-4 win over the Seahawks at Brooks Field.
“[Pitching coach Drew] Thomas really hadn’t planned on anything, he just said, ‘Everyone that’s traveling out of the pen be ready,’” Beckwith said. “... I didn’t really expect to go that long, but when I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it and Coach Thomas let me go.”
Beckwith picked up two strikeouts – including freezing Brian Mims for the final out of the game – for his first save of the season and the fourth win in a row for the suddenly streaking Chants (11-7).
Senior Connor Owings and sophomore Dalton Ewing supplied home runs as part of a four-run fourth inning and the Chants managed to prevail despite collecting only three hits overall and leaving eight runners on base.
“That was not a very pretty effort offensively, but I’ll surely take it,” Gilmore said. “Two of the three we got went out of the yard – that helps a lot. We set the table a bunch, we just couldn’t [capitalize]. Their pitcher is good and we just failed to execute some things that we’ve got to get better at.”
The pitching was good enough Wednesday to pick up the slack for the offense, though.
We’ve got a good thing going. Our staff is finally starting to figure it out. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but our offense is starting to come together and we’re looking like a true team right now. Hopefully we can keep winning and get somewhere in the conference.
CCU reliever Andrew Beckwith
Sophomore right-hander Zack Hopeck made his first start of the season and got through three innings while allowing three hits, one walk and one run along with two strikeouts. After junior righty Nick Masterson was charged with two earned runs in an inning of relief, freshman lefty Austin Kitchen followed with 1 2/3 innings while giving up a run and leaving that base runner on second.
He’d get credit for the win, though, as Beckwith took care of the rest while lowering his earned-run average to 3.68 with his dominant performance.
“To come up here and win and not have to use [Mike] Morrison and [Bobby] Holmes and some of those guys and be able to go to Longwood [this weekend] with those guys fresh is huge,” Gilmore said. “To be honest with you, we would have lost the game before I would have used them. We taxed them hard last Tuesday, Wednesday and over the weekend and I didn’t want to have to come here and use them. Dap (Beckwith) picked us up. He threw very, very well.”
UNC Wilmington (9-6) had a 1-0 lead entering the fourth inning before junior G.K. Young reached on an error and Owings crushed a two-run shot over the centerfield wall for his third homer of the season. He’s actually homered in each of the last three games while finding his power stroke during this season-best winning streak for the Chants.
“It’s just good to help us win, honestly,” Owings said. “I feel like if I’m on time on the barrel good things are going to happen. Over the past weekend and stuff, stuff is starting to fall and stuff’s going over the fence so it’s pretty good.”
Later in that same inning Ewing delivered a two-run homer to left-center to give the Chants a 4-1 lead. The sophomore outfielder has only started three games this season and has homered in two of them. He was in the lineup Wednesday night in place of senior Anthony Marks, who was catching up on academic work according to the team.
Gilmore said Ewing, who missed most of his freshman season due to injury, is showing progress.
“A little bit here and there, a little bit. I’m hoping that as time goes on and he gets opportunities that he’ll continue to gain confidence,” Gilmore said. “A lot of it is just confidence for him. He didn’t play for over a year so just kind of trying to find his swing and get in real games against real pitching and do stuff. I thought he was the most comfortable I’ve seen tonight.”
The Chants’ first lead didn’t last long as UNC Wilmington scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game at 4-4.
After Masterson gave up a leadoff walk and single before being removed from the game Kitchen followed with a walk to the first batter he faced, loading the bases with no outs. Nick Feight and Andy Austin each contributed an RBI sacrifice fly and Daniel Stack barely beat out an infield single to allow the tying run to score with two outs.
In the sixth, the Chants pulled back ahead when sophomore Billy Cooke led off with a walk and stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from sophomore Seth Lancaster and scored on a sacrifice fly from sophomore Matt Beaird.
They tacked on an extra run in the top of the ninth after a leadoff walk by Ewing, a sac bunt from junior Michael Paez and a Seahawks throwing error with two outs.
The Chants tied a program record with five sac bunts in the game, marking the fifth time in program history they’ve done that and the first since 2011.
Coastal Carolina will take its recent momentum on the road to Longwood for a three-game series starting Friday while opening conference play.
“We’ve got a good thing going,” Beckwith said. “Our staff is finally starting to figure it out. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but our offense is starting to come together and we’re looking like a true team right now. Hopefully we can keep winning and get somewhere in the conference.”