Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore didn’t feel any need to keep St. Mary’s guessing these next two days, revealing Wednesday afternoon that the Chanticleers will start junior right-hander Andrew Beckwith on Friday in the teams’ NCAA regionals opener.
He’s hopeful the reigning Big South Pitcher of the Year will be able to do enough of that on his own with his varied arm angles and consistent ability to rise to the occasion this season.
The No. 2-seeded Chants (44-15) and No. 3 Gaels (33-23) clash at 2 p.m. Friday at N.C. State’s Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C., in the opener of the double-elimination bracket that also includes the host Wolfpack and No. 4 Navy.
“We’re going to go with Beckwith. I feel like he’s the best matchup for those guys,” Gilmore said. “[Alex Cunningham] didn’t pitch great here against [N.C.] State, but if we’re fortunate to win and they win he’ll go game two regardless and we’ll go from there. But Beckwith and their lineup just match up a little bit better. We feel like we can handle them a little bit more with some offspeed stuff.”
Beckwith boasts a 10-1 record and sterling 1.79 earned-run average over 80 1/3 innings, while making five starts and 15 relief appearances.
That ERA presently ranks fifth on the Chants’ single-season record list during the program’s Division I era while his 1.49 mark in 2014 ranks third.
He’ll counter a St. Mary’s team that features four guys hitting .297 or better and four with six or more home runs.
“Runs are going to be at a premium if their guy’s on, so we’re going to have to keep the score down, control the running game and control every aspect that we can,” Gilmore said. “AC has been good, but Beckwith from day one until now has been our best guy, most consistent guy for sure.”
With Cunningham (8-3, 3.87 ERA) set to throw the second game, the Chants would then have a couple of obvious options for the remaining games with sophomore righty Zack Hopeck (3-2, 3.15) and freshman righty Jason Bilous (3-1, 3.96) both coming off terrific outings in the Big South tournament last week.
Scouting the Gaels
Meanwhile, the Chants are expecting to face St. Mary’s ace Corbin Burnes, a 6-foot-3 junior righty who comes in with a 9-1 record, 2.23 ERA, .208 opponents’ batting average and 112 strikeouts with 31 walks over 97 innings.
“He throws hard. He’s going to be 90-96. It’s going to be a bunch of upper numbers,” Gilmore said. “I’m sure there will be some scouts getting one last look before the draft. What we’ve heard, he’s a middle to late first round guy so that will be a great challenge for our kids. That’s been one of the knocks on us for several years, playing in the Big South that we get into this level of play and that power fastball, power pitching guys we don’t handle well. I’m hoping we’re ready for that part and I believe we will be.”
To be clear, that’s what Gilmore feels the perception is, not what he himself believes.
He noted the Chants’ past offensive success in the NCAA regionals against first-round pitching talents in Connecticut’s Matt Barnes (2011) and Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray (2013).
“They don’t give us credit for beating up the Barnes kid that’s pitching for the Red Sox. We smoked him [for nine hits and seven runs in 4 1/3 innings], and heck, if we pitch a little better and defend a little better we beat Oklahoma and the kid who was the [third] pick in the draft. We hit him like we owned him [for nine hits and three runs over nine innings],” Gilmore said. “So I feel that label is a little unfair, but it’s out there and sooner or later we’ve got to put it to rest for good. So for me, Friday’s as good a chance as any.”
There is a palpable feeling that the Chants are better equipped to advance to a super regional this year than they have been in a while. That includes some national college baseball media mentioning Coastal Carolina as one of the more likely No. 2 seeds to advance this week.
And a driving force behind all of that is no doubt the Chants’ home run prowess as they enter the week second in NCAA Division I with 89 homers (behind only Mercer’s 93).
That, of course, was a key attribute in the program’s last run to the super regionals as the 2010 team clubbed 111 homers that season.
It’s especially impressive this spring given that the team managed just 17 home runs total two seasons ago (albeit while playing in the cavernous TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark).
“It makes the game fun. It’s a miserable game when you can’t hit but 17 home runs all season long,” Gilmore said. “Every game you’re playing, if you pitch well it’s 3-2, 4-3, it’s just so miserable. So to be able to create offense and do that in this ballpark with this group of guys has been incredibly fun.”
Senior third baseman Zach Remillard’s 18 homers this year – four off the program record – are more than that entire 2014 team hit, while senior right fielder Connor Owings and junior designated hitter G.K. Young sit at 15 and junior shortstop Michael Paez has 14 to form what has been a potent 2-5 in the batting order.
Gilmore feels that’s a direct testament to the team’s strength and development programs and the work of the coaching staff in helping get the most of the players because this power surge wasn’t necessarily by design.
“In all honesty, outside of G.K. Young, no one that’s come into this program that’s hitting home runs was a home run hitter. They were good athletes that were good hitters, but none of them were prolific home run hitters like G.K. was coming out of high school,” Gilmore said. “So the majority of that has been developed while they’ve been here. Outside of G.K. we haven’t gone after a ton of guys that just are legit home run guys. You hope that guy that comes in that hits three as a freshman can hit seven or eight as a sophomore and hit 10 or 12 as a junior and you just develop them physically and mentally.”
NCAA Baseball Regionals
Who | No. 2-seed Coastal Carolina vs. No. 3 St. Mary’s [Calif.]
Where | Doak Field, Raleigh, N.C.
When | 2 p.m. Friday
TV/Internet | ESPN3.com
Radio | WSEA-FM 100.3