For as thoroughly and for as long as the Coastal Carolina baseball program has reigned over the Big South, it’s easy to forget that the Chanticleers have not won a conference championship – regular-season or tournament title – since 2012.
With the Chants headed to the Sun Belt Conference next season, this is their last chance to regain their perch atop the Big South, and it begins Friday with the start of a three-game series at Longwood in Farmville, Va.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on is trying to win our conference, and it’s something we haven’t really done since I’ve been here so we’re really just going to try to dominate the Big South,” senior outfielder Connor Owings said. “The Big South has gotten a lot better and there’s a lot of good teams so we’ve got to come to play every weekend.”
Coastal Carolina (11-7) comes into its first conference series riding a season-best four-game winning streak, which continued with a 6-4 victory at UNC Wilmington on Wednesday.
The Chants have grand goals for this season, looking to build on their return to the NCAA regionals last year and trying to push further into the postseason.
But along the way, the conference championship holds its own significance to this team.
I’m hoping that something is really high on their agenda because this league’s been good to us. As much as everyone complains about this or that and about our league, it’s been good to Coastal baseball. I’d love to walk out of the Big South with a Big South title. There’s a bunch of other people in the league all the way from the top on down that don’t want us to do it, so that will hopefully rally the troops a little bit too. But we’ve sure got our sights set on that – I know I do.
Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore
Coastal Carolina has won 15 regular-season Big South titles since 1988 and 13 tournament championships. No other program in the league has more than three regular-season titles or four tournament crowns. For a six-year run from 2007-12, the Chants swept both championships every year.
They were voted the preseason favorite in the league with 10 of 11 possible first-place votes.
Longwood, meanwhile, was picked eighth and has started the season 10-7. Alex Lewis leads the team offensively, batting .313 with four homers, six doubles and 21 RBIs.
A doubleheader between the teams is scheduled for Friday, with first pitch at 2 p.m. The series will conclude on Saturday, with game time yet to be announced.
Regardless, the Chants are hoping for three wins.
“It’s important because it’s our one true way of getting in [to the NCAA regionals]. It’s something we took a lot of pride in for a long time,” said Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore. “We were in position last year, shoot, we made it to the championship game and our two best starters aren’t there and we still get there. Some things kind of bit them, but in all honesty I thought we were still the best team, but we didn’t get the ring. So this is our last chance at it.
“I’m hoping that something is really high on their agenda because this league’s been good to us. As much as everyone complains about this or that and about our league, it’s been good to Coastal baseball. I’d love to walk out of the Big South with a Big South title. There’s a bunch of other people in the league all the way from the top on down that don’t want us to do it, so that will hopefully rally the troops a little bit too. But we’ve sure got our sights set on that – I know I do.”
After hitting his first two home runs of the season last Sunday, Owings said that he was hoping to catch team home run leaders Zach Remillard and G.K. Young – who have seven and four, respectively.
Apparently he is intent on that pursuit as he followed with another homer Wednesday – a no-doubt shot over the centerfield wall – for his third homer in as many games.
Gilmore commented last weekend that coaches have worked with Owings on a slight adjustment at the plate, and the senior slugger expounded on that tweak after the game Wednesday.
“We just made a few mechanical adjustments,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be an aggressive hitter, get to the ball early. We just kind of worked on setting up the machine away and trying to be calm and let the ball get deep in the zone and it’s really been helping.”
Overall, Owings is now batting .317 with those three homers, a team-high six doubles and 14 RBIs.
Senior right-hander Tyler Poole will start the first game of the series, looking to build on a 3-1 record and 2.57 earned-run average (ERA) he’s compiled through his first four starts of the season. Longwood is expected to throw righty Travis Burnette (2-1, 2.22 ERA) in the opener.
The big news for the Chants is that junior righty Alex Cunningham is set to make his return to the rotation after picking up two wins in relief last week while trying to regain his form . The projected staff ace this season is 2-1 and has lowered his ERA to 6.55. Longwood will throw lefty Steven Farkas (0-0, 1.69) in the second game.
Junior righty Cole Schaefer (0-0, 5.00) will start the finale while the Lancers throwing righty Luke Simpson (0-0, 3.27).