Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore had commented earlier this week that he felt his Chanticleers needed a sweep on the road against a struggling Charleston Southern team to support their hopes for hosting an NCAA Regional.
Well, that plan was thwarted Friday night when they dropped the series opener, but the rest of the weekend belonged to the Chants.
Coastal Carolina, which was ranked as high as No. 20 in the most recent round of national polls, picked up a 6-0 win over Charleston Southern on Sunday while taking two out of three games from the Buccaneers and collecting enough positives to feel good about the weekend overall.
Especially as the Chants clinched the program’s first Big South regular-season championship since 2012, in their final season in the conference.
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“You feel good because you won the series and got a good win against always a good opponent, but you want to get three,” left fielder Anthony Marks said. “The goal is three. It didn’t turn out how we wanted Friday night, but we battled Saturday and Sunday and ended up winning the series so you’ve got to be happy with what we did here this weekend.”
Marks was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a leaping catch at the fence to deny a potential home run Sunday, G.K. Young was 3-for-5 while homering for the second day in a row, Billy Cooke was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and rookie right-hander Jason Bilous picked up his first career victory as the Chants improved to 36-15 overall and 18-3 in the Big South.
Bilous (1-1) went a season-best five innings while giving up four hits and five walks along with two strikeouts. He worked himself into plenty of trouble, but he also worked himself out of it – and that had Gilmore plenty encouraged.
“After losing that game on Friday, very frustrating, to bounce back and play well [is good]. We pitched good today,” Gilmore said. “There were moments where a hit here or there makes the game different, but we were able to get out of stuff we had kind of self created and we got enough offense to get done what we needed to get done. And I thought our infield defense was outstanding on a field that’s tough to field on.”
Bilous, the most-touted newcomer in the Chants’ last recruiting class, has been brought along slowly this season while completing his recovery from Tommy John surgery and struggling with his command for much of the season.
The coaches would like him to emerge as a steady option in the starting rotation as they project toward the postseason, and while his performance Sunday wasn’t flawless, it was progress.
“It was about time I finally get there,” Bilous said of picking up his first win. “I was having trouble getting past the third inning, but today I stuck with it and got to five.”
Charleston Southern (18-31, 5-16) had runners on second and third in the second inning before Bilous got Cole Murphy to pop out to right field. The hosts then had runners on first and second in the third after back-to-back two-out singles before Bilous got Bryan Dye to fly out to center. And in the fourth, Bilous sandwiched two walks around a single to load the bases with two outs, but he was left in the game and got Nate Blanchard to fly out to left to end yet another threat.
While the walks are still not ideal, Gilmore said he sees the prized young righty developing.
“His misses are closer,” Gilmore said. “Even though he walked guys, there were only probably three or four pitches that he truly scattered way out of the zone. There were probably 10-12 pitches that were called balls that in some people’s eyes those are strikes, so I thought he did a good job.”
Meanwhile, the Coastal Carolina offense did its thing yet again.
Seth Lancaster gave the Chants a 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the second, Young lined a homer to right to lead off the fourth, Matt Beaird tacked on an RBI sacrifice fly later that inning while Marks followed with a two-out RBI single to make it 4-0.
Marks then slapped a two-run single up the middle with the bases loaded in the sixth to make it 6-0.
His best highlight of the day, though, came in the field when he pulled back a potential home run off the bat of Charleston Southern’s Mason McClellan.
“Billy [Cooke] said it would have got out. I thought it would have got out too. That was probably the first one I actually brought back into play in my career,” Marks said. “It feels just as good as I thought it was going to feel and dreamed about it feeling so it was exciting.”
The senior leadoff hitter had three hits and an RBI Saturday before following up with his big day Sunday, which is another encouraging sign for the Chants as the top-of-the-order spark plug admits he hasn’t been producing as he’d like.
“I mean I know I haven’t really been contributing offensively like I’d like to, but like Coach Gilmore said, ‘Just pride yourself defensively, and if you ain’t getting hits, take some hits away,’ ” he said. “It’s just good this weekend to finally get some hits and take some hits away both in the same game.”
Overall, the Chants finished the weekend with seven home runs in the three games, which is the same total Charleston Southern has hit in its home ballpark all season.
After their big weekends, Young and Zach Remillard share the team lead in that category with 14 each while Connor Owings has 13 homers and Michael Paez sits at 11.
Now that the Chants have the Big South regular-season title locked up – taking a five-game lead with three conference games remaining – they will look to enhance their national profile in a key non-conference showdown with UNC Wilmington on Tuesday night. at Springs Brooks Stadium.
“I think [we need to] just quit thinking about down the road,” Gilmore said of trying to project the team’s postseason possibilities. “We’ve got a top-15, top-20 RPI game on Tuesday at our place. Honestly it seems like it’s been a lifetime since we’ve played at our place, so I’m looking forward to playing at home. Hopefully we can get a good crowd there and it will be a huge regional matchup between two pretty good teams.”