It was only fitting that the two players who used to star on the baseball field at Gilbert High School less than 10 miles down the road would end up having a pronounced impact on the end result of Coastal Carolina’s opening game in the Big South tournament Tuesday night.
Connor Owings drove in the go-ahead run in the top-seeded Chanticleers’ 7-5 win over No. 8 Radford at Lexington County Baseball Stadium, and former Gilbert High teammate Mike Morrison pitched the final two innings to earn the win.
“One of these two guys will end up being mayor of Gilbert before it’s all over with,” Chants coach Gary Gilmore joked in the postgame news conference.
Added Morrison: “No doubt about it – mayor and co-mayor.”
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Radford (17-38) was thinking upset as it scored three runs in the top of the eighth inning to tie Coastal Carolina (41-15), but the Chants loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning and Owings poked an infield single toward second base that plated the go-ahead run and ultimately a second run on a throwing error.
And Morrison went two innings in relief while allowing one hit, two walks and no earned runs along with four strikeouts.
“Me and Mike, I think we bore everybody on the team talking about Gilbert, but that’s our hometown, where we grew up. We love it. It was a special moment to have with our family and friends there,” Owings said.
Owings, who played summer ball in this stadium last year with the Lexington County Blowfish, was named the Big South Player of the Year this week while Morrison was a first-team all-conference selection.
Me and Mike, I think we bore everybody on the team talking about Gilbert, but that’s our hometown, where we grew up. We love it. It was a special moment to have with our family and friends there.
CCU right fielder Connor Owings
On Tuesday night the senior closer inherited a tough situation in the eighth when he took over with runners on second and third, no outs and a dwindling 5-3 lead.
After starting with back-to-back strikeouts, it looked like he might just pull yet another Houdini act and get the Chants out of that jam, but a walk and a wild pitch allowed one run to score and an infield single by pinch-hitter Jordan Taylor tied the game at 5-5.
“I got close, I got two strikes on that guy and I let the emotion of the game get the best of me a little bit and tried to overthrow a breaking ball,” he said. “I’ve got to be better than that if we’re going to do what we want to do here. I’ve got to be able to get out of that jam.”
Morrison started the postgame news conference by apologizing to Gilmore for making the game so interesting, but the inherited runners on base weren’t his doing and he ultimately did his job while throwing an uneventful ninth inning to seal the win after the Chants had rallied with those two runs in the bottom of the eighth.
“It’s phenomenal. My mom and dad were actually here. They haven’t gotten to a game all year so it’s pretty special for me,” Morrison said. “I was a little late to the interview, I was giving them a hug and a kiss.”
Beckwith to start Wednesday
Junior right-hander Andrew Beckwith, the newly minted Big South Pitcher of the Year, will start Wednesday night as the Chants take on No. 4-seed Gardner-Webb.
Beckwith comes into the game with a 9-1 record and a 1.73 earned-run average and will be making his fifth start of the year while alternating between the bullpen and rotation.
Gardner-Webb (37-19) advanced in the winners bracket with a 5-3 win over Presbyterian on Tuesday night.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs have already thrown their ace, though, as Brad Haymes pitched a complete game in that one for his 11th win of the season.
Coastal Carolina swept the teams’ regular-season series back in early April, scoring 36 runs in the three-game set and winning each by four or more runs.
The game Wednesday is scheduled for 45 minutes after the conclusion of the tournament’s 4:30 p.m. game, meaning it will likely start well after 8 p.m. ...
Coastal Carolina is vying for its first Big South tournament championship since 2012. ...
The Chants didn’t hit a home run Tuesday in their tournament opener, but they hit four in that regular-season series against Gardner-Webb as Michael Paez, Tyler Chadwick, Seth Lancaster and Owings all left the yard. Coastal Carolina leads all NCAA Division I teams with 85 homers this season and should eventually take advantage of the tight dimensions inside the ballpark this week, with the fences set at 318 feet and 302 feet down the lines.