There was plenty of talk before the season about what this Coastal Carolina baseball team could potentially accomplish this year.
The goals were certainly grand as the Chanticleers aimed to get back into the NCAA super regionals for the first time since 2010 and push for the program’s first College World Series berth.
But as they discussed such goals a few months ago, the Chants also made a point to note that most of the players on this roster had never even been part of a Big South championship.
After dominating the conference for so many years, Coastal Carolina is back on top again after claiming its first regular-season league title since 2012 and is now looking for its first Big South tournament title since that same year as the No. 1-seeded Chants take on No. 8 Radford in the opening round Tuesday in Lexington.
“We’ve accomplished one of our goals, and that was to win the regular season. The kids did that in a tremendous fashion, and now one of the things we want to do and accomplish together is we want to win a ring together,” coach Gary Gilmore said. “So that will be our focus starting Tuesday – to see if we can climb that mountain and finish this thing off in the Big South. That’s the only thing we can control. We can’t control all the other multitude of factors that are out there.”
The other factors Gilmore referenced are the ones that will ultimately determine whether his Chants (40-15, 21-3 Big South) get to host an NCAA regional next week.
Coastal Carolina moved up three spots to No. 19 in the Baseball America national poll this week and also drew rankings of No. 19 in the USA Today/Coaches poll, Collegiate Baseball poll while being ranked as high as No. 17 by D1Baseball.com and PerfectGame.org.
It’s a real special group. You don’t get a group this locked in with this much talent and ability, all the intangible factors along with talent don’t come along every single year.
CCU baseball coach Gary Gilmore
The Chants have won six straight games, nine of their last 10 and on Monday swept the top Big South awards as senior right fielder Connor Owings was named the conference’s player of the year, junior Andrew Beckwith was named pitcher of the year and Gilmore was named coach of the year.
Having won the regular-season title by a seven-game margin and given all of those other accolades, the Chants are the overwhelming favorites in the double-elimination tournament this week and will look to further their case to the NCAA selection committee if they can finish the job in their final go-round in the Big South.
“It’s a real special group,” Gilmore said. “You don’t get a group this locked in with this much talent and ability, all the intangible factors along with talent don’t come along every single year.”
In opening against Radford (17-37) on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., the Chants take on a Highlanders team they swept back in April, winning that three-game series by a 27-12 margin.
Radford had lost seven straight before sweeping UNC Asheville in its final series.
Sophomore left-hander Zack Ridgely was the team’s top pitcher this season, going 4-6 with a 3.24 earned-run average, and is expected to get the start Tuesday.
The Chants will counter with junior right-hander Alex Cunningham, who is 8-3 with a 3.93 ERA and is coming off perhaps his best start of the season.
For that matter, the Chants as a whole are coming off one of their best performances in a 23-4 win over Campbell on Saturday in the regular-season finale and altogether, feeling plenty confident heading into this next stage of the season.
“I think one of the biggest things for us in this run of late is our starting pitching has been great and the bullpen has been great,” senior first baseman Tyler Chadwick said. “Anytime you can pitch and play good defense, you’ve got a chance to win games, even if you’re not scoring runs. The good thing is we’ve been scoring a few runs with the good pitching we’ve been having. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
Added senior third baseman Zach Remillard: “Pitching is huge, offense is huge, but I think the biggest thing and the most easily consistent thing is defense, and it’s actually been a lot better as of late. Mikey’s doing a great job, Seth’s doing a great job and our defense in the outfield has been good all season. But it’s just good to see that connection and flow on defense where we’re picking guys up with plays rather than having to pick ourselves up with the bat.”
Big South Baseball Tournament
Who: No. 8-seeded Radford vs. No. 1 Coastal Carolina
When: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Lexington County Baseball Stadium, Lexington
Radio: WSEA-FM 100.3