Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore wasn’t pleased with his team’s offensive performance Wednesday night or, for that matter, the defense.
But fortunately the pitching was good enough to carry the Chanticleers in this one.
Sophomore right-hander Zack Hopeck delivered his best outing of the season, going five scoreless innings, and the bullpen finished it off as Coastal Carolina got past The Citadel, 4-3.
“It means a lot. It helps me get back on my feet a little bit,” Hopeck said of his strong start. “I just try to focus on literally taking it one pitch at a time all the time, make sure I’m locked in all the time. ... I pitched pretty well, but when I did get in trouble my defense really picked me up, rolled a few double plays there and really helped me out.”
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Hopeck lowered his earned-run average from 6.39 to 4.58 while allowing only three hits and a walk in his five innings of work. He did get the benefit of two double plays while evening his record at 1-1.
I think it helps that we pick each other up a lot. When the hitting’s slacking a little bit, the pitching comes in and that’s what makes us such a good team. Because when we’re pitching bad, the hitters come in and pick us up. It’s all about picking each other up.
CCU pitcher Zack Hopeck
The defense wasn’t quite as steady the rest of the way, though. After Cole Schaefer was the hard-luck recipient of three unearned runs due to two errors in the seventh inning, Andrew Beckwith got the Chants (17-9) out of a jam and Mike Morrison eventually closed out the win with a game-ending strikeout to strand two runners on base for his third save.
“[Hopeck] had command for the most part and made some good pitches when he needed to. He was very good. I thought Schaefer didn’t deserve his fate. We were completely horrible in the infield – there’s no better way to describe it,” Gilmore said. “... We ended up having to go to Beckwith, who is someone who’s used to being out the bullpen and he did a good job for us and Morrison finished it. Outside of the pitching performance, every other phase of the game we took a huge step backwards today. It’s very, very frustrating.”
It did look like the Chants were going to cruise in this one when they built a 4-0 lead after two innings.
Anthony Marks and Michael Paez led off with back-to-back singles in the bottom of the first, Marks scored on a balk and Connor Owings later followed with an RBI single.
In the second inning Seth Lancaster and Matt Beaird hit back-to-back one-out singles and Marks walked to load the bases. Paez plated one run on a fielder’s choice and G.K. Young added an RBI single to make it 4-0.
Bulldogs starter Alex Bialakis (1-1) was yanked after just two innings, having given up six hits, a walk and those four runs.
But the Chants didn’t record another hit the rest of the game.
“Honestly, I wish I had the knowledge of how you get this group – because it’s been their MO for their entire careers here – to really focus and really do things the way we’re capable of doing them [every game],” Gilmore said. “We made what should have been a not-so-close game into a real tough game in the end.”
The Citadel (12-14) certainly made things interesting with a three-run top of the seventh inning.
Stephen Windham led off that frame with a single, Ben Peden reached on a throwing error by Lancaster at second base and Bret Hines reached on a bunt single to third that Zach Remillard couldn’t handle in time to make a throw.
Schaefer bounced back to get Clay Martin to hit shallow lineout to left, but William Kinney followed with a slow grounder to short and Paez fired wildly to first base to try to salvage an out while instead allowing a second run to score on the play. Jacob Watcher then delivered an RBI single to center to make it a 4-3 game.
Beckwith took over on the mound for the Chants and immediately had a bunt come back his way off the bat of Jason Smith. He fumbled the ball, but it worked to the Chants’ advantage as the runner at third took off for home and was eventually tagged out in a rundown for the second out.
Beckwith then got Shy Phillips to strike out to end the inning.
“I went back in the dugout after that inning and I told Coach [Drew] Thomas, ‘I kind of blacked out when I threw that pitch,” Beckwith said of the bunt play. “I was looking to see if the runner was going from third and I slowed up a little bit and just took my head off the ball. Luckily [we got the out].
“We were up one at that point with a guy on third. ... You’ve just got to make a play. We’re used to coming in in that spot. We’re in the pen for a reason, to pick up our starters and relievers.”
The next threat from the Bulldogs came in the top of the ninth as Morrison walked Martin and Watcher to put two runners on with two outs, but he got Smith to go down swinging to end the game.
The senior closer has retired 40 of the last 49 batters he’s faced with 24 strikeouts and has not given up a run in his last nine outings spanning 20 1/3 innings with 32 strikeouts in that stretch, all while dropping his ERA to a miniscule 0.71.
With that, the Chants have now won 10 of their last 12 games heading into a three-game series this weekend with Big South foe Gardner-Webb.
“I think it helps that we pick each other up a lot,” Hopeck said. “When the hitting’s slacking a little bit, the pitching comes in and that’s what makes us such a good team. Because when we’re pitching bad, the hitters come in and pick us up. It’s all about picking each other up.”
NOTES: The crowd of 2,793 Wednesday night was the fourth-largest in Springs Brooks Stadium history. ... Remillard snapped a seven-game hitting streak in the win, but he extended another streak by reaching base in an 18th straight game thanks to a walk.