After being disappointed Sunday night in not being named an NCAA regional host, the Coastal Carolina baseball team and its supporters gathered together Monday in anticipation to watch the full tournament selection show and learn where the Chanticleers will start what they hope is an extended postseason run.
Players, coaches, university officials and around 100 or so others packed into Handley’s Pub & Grub in Carolina Forest and cheered when the ESPNU broadcast revealed the Chants will be a No. 2-seed in Raleigh, N.C., in a double-elimination regional that also includes host N.C. State, No. 3-seeded St. Mary’s and No. 4 Navy.
The No. 15-ranked Chants (44-15) will open the tournament Friday at 2 p.m. against St. Mary’s (33-23).
“I’m just excited to get the opportunity to play in the Raleigh regional. Obviously we’re disappointed that we can’t host here at home, but we’ll be ready to go up there and get after it,” coach Gary Gilmore said.
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Coastal Carolina, which swept the Big South regular-season and tournament titles, was hoping its No. 12 RPI and No. 7-rated non-conference strength of schedule would be enough to make it one of the 16 regional host sites for the first time since 2010. The Chants won their last 10 games and 31 of their last 37, but that momentum wasn’t enough to sway the selection committee.
Five teams that finished behind the Chants in the RPI earned the right to host, including a Virginia team they beat early in the season.
By Monday, though, Gilmore said he and his team had moved on from that slight.
“It was disappointing, nothing more. We have to be good people. I’m disappointed only for the fact the kids had worked hard to do it and [we] very much wanted to showcase our stadium and our fans and the whole nine yards. But we’re okay,” he said. “... I’m not on the committee. Every team that’s in it is deserving. I thought we were deserving as well. It’s not an easy task what they do.”
Said senior closer Mike Morrison: “That’s out of our [control]. We’re high right now, we’ve won 10 in a row, that’s about all we can control. Regardless of where we go we’re going to be all right. It’s honestly just exciting. We get to continue to play baseball. [For] a couple of us, we don’t have much time left so to continue to play baseball is something special.”
St. Mary’s, out of Moraga, Calif., won the West Coast Conference Championship over the weekend to earn its first ever NCAA regionals berth.
The Gaels’ top pitcher is 6-foot-3 junior right-hander Corbin Burnes, who boasts a 9-1 record, 2.23 earned-run average, .208 opponent’s batting average and 112 strikeouts (against 31 walks) in 97 innings.
Offensively they are led by sophomore Zach Kirtley (.326 batting average, 7 home runs, 43 RBIs), sophomore Joey Fiske (.310, 17 stolen bases), senior Anthony Gonsolin (.304-6-25) and senior Anthony Villa (.297-7-39).
The Chants and Gaels have never met in baseball. Coastal Carolina has played regional host N.C. State 27 times, including a 13-10 win by the Wolfpack back in February.
Gilmore only wanted to focus on his team’s first obstacle, though.
“We play St. Mary’s so I’m not worried about N.C. State right now, to be honest with you,” he said. “If we look ahead we’ll be in the losers’ bracket, I can tell you that right now. Even though they’re a West Coast team and whatever, they’ll play a style [of] baseball that will really challenge us.”
Overall, this marks the Chants’ 14th regionals appearance in the last 16 seasons. They were also a No. 2 seed last year in the College Station, Texas., regional where they went 1-2.
That was a much different team, though. By that point injuries had cost the Chants their top two starting pitchers and their power-hitting catcher.
This Coastal Carolina team comes in fully equipped with a healthy pitching staff and an offense ranked second in the NCAA Division I with 89 home runs.
“Last year, that was an incredibly hard regional. All of the prognosticators said it was the toughest one in the country, and there was no doubt with the talent that [of] those four teams,” Gilmore said. “... It’s not like this is going to be easy, I can promise you that. But at least we match up personnel-wise with these teams probably better than what we did last year.”
After all the suspense and waiting the last couple days to learn their postseason draw, the Chants are just ready to turn their focus toward their next challenge now.
“A lot of predictions and stuff beforehand, but you never really know where you’re going to go,” senior right fielder Connor Owings said. “We’re heading to Raleigh with a very good N.C. State team. We got matched up with St. Mary’s, I don’t really know much about them, but I assume they’re a very good team, so we’re going to get ready for them and hope for the best.”