The Coastal Carolina baseball team is hoping to finish its final season in the Big South with a tournament championship this week, but the Chanticleers learned Monday they will at the very least be leaving with a sweep of the conference’s top annual awards.
Senior right fielder Connor Owings was named the Big South Player of the Year, junior right-hander Andrew Beckwith was named the conference’s pitcher of the year and Gary Gilmore was honored as the league’s coach of the year for the eighth time in his career while seven other Chants were recognized as well.
“It’s kind of a humbling experience,” Owings said. “You see all those people on the wall every day in the stadium, people like Daniel Bowman, Tommy La Stella, Dock Doyle, Kevin Schnall, and you don’t ever think about being up there. And it’s just kind of a surreal moment for me right now.”
Owings is the 12th Chant to receive the Big South Player of the Year award while Beckwith is the sixth in program history to receive the pitcher of the year award since it was created in 2007.
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“It’s awesome. I mean, I didn’t really know,” Beckwith said. “Mike Morrison and I talk about it and we were battling all year. We’ll look at our stats in the Big South and other pitchers [in the league]. … Mike and I just pushed each other. We didn’t throw much in the fall and the coaches didn’t know what to expect of us this year, and it’s a great honor – family and team were all very proud.”
The Chants (40-15, 21-3) won the Big South’s regular-season title by a seven-game margin, reached 40 wins for the first time since 2012 and will be the top seed in the conference tournament as they open play Tuesday afternoon against No. 8 Radford in Lexington.
In addition to the top honors, Owings, Beckwith, senior third baseman Zach Remillard, junior designated hitter G.K. Young and Morrison, the team’s senior closer, were named first-team All-Big South. Junior shortstop Michael Paez and junior right-handed starter Alex Cunningham were second-team selections, sophomore center fielder Billy Cooke was an honorable mention pick and senior Tyler Chadwick earned Academic All-Big South recognition for the third straight season.
Truth be told, the Chants had several candidates for that player of the year honor with Remillard batting .344 and leading the league with 16 home runs, 59 RBIs and 54 runs while Young hit .341 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs.
But Owings shined the brightest all season, especially in conference play.
He was the first Chant to be named the conference’s offensive player of the week three times in one season and heads into the tournament batting a Big South-best .405 with 15 homers, 15 doubles, two triples, 54 runs scored, 48 RBIs, a .517 on-base percentage, .751 slugging percentage and 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts.
He is the only player in the NCAA with a .400 batting average and a slugging percentage greater than .750. His .751 mark ranks fourth in the NCAA in that category while he’s ninth nationally in on-base percentage and 13th in batting average.
In Big South games only, Owings batted .474 with a .613 on-base percentage and 1.013 slugging percentage.
“We were sitting on the bus and we saw Coach Gilmore got coach of the year, and then Beckwith got pitcher of the year and Mike [Morrison] told me I got it and then Chadwick and Remillard and [other teammates] came up and gave me a hug and we celebrated a little bit on the bus,” Owings said.
Asked what he was most proud of this season, though, it wasn’t any of those aforementioned stats.
“I think it would be the 40 wins next to our name right now,” he said. “That’s something we haven’t done since I’ve been here ... and hopefully we can build on that in the conference tournament.”
Beckwith, meanwhile, managed to win the pitcher of the year honor despite making only four starts and working mostly out of an extended middle relief role. His numbers and his value to the Chants’ success were simply too impressive to ignore, though.
He heads into the conference tournament with a 9-1 record and two saves in 19 appearances, leading the league in both wins and earned-run average (1.73) among qualifying pitchers. That included a streak of 38 straight innings without allowing an earned run.
He was 7-0 with a 0.76 ERA in Big South games alone, but he admitted he was somewhat surprised to receive the honor with the way his friend and teammate Morrison pitched this year in posting a 0.98 ERA, 6-1 record and six saves over 46 innings with 65 strikeouts and 16 walks.
As for his role going forward, he could be used as either a starter or reliever in the postseason and that versatility has made him especially invaluable for the Chants.
“I would have loved to have started at the beginning of the year, but I think not throwing in the fall and having a mishap over the winter break, [pitching coach Drew] Thomas really trusted me and put just a lot of faith in telling me I’d end up starting at some point this year,” Beckwith said. “But as a relief pitcher, I’ve got to be able to go every day. ... This award just boosts my confidence.”