Sitting next to a trio of head coaches whose programs all have recent history here in the College World Series, Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore was asked if he sensed any pressure on the shoulders of his players as they make their first appearance on college baseball’s biggest stage.
“I don’t know that our group can get tight. I’ll be very disappointed if they do. They’ve never shown it at this point in time. It’s just not who we are,” Gilmore responded.
No stage has seemed too big, no spotlight too bright for these Chanticleers so far as they rallied back in the NCAA regionals against NC State and swept Louisiana State in the super regionals – both on the road – to get to the program’s first College World Series.
Next up for Coastal Carolina (49-16) is a showdown with top-seeded Florida (52-14) on Sunday night at TD Ameritrade Park as the teams clash on the opening day for their side of the eight-team, two-bracket double-elimination event.
The Gators were considered by many to be the best team in the country for most of the season and are no doubt the favorites in this one, but again, that hasn’t seemed to matter to the streaking Chants as they’ve won 15 of their last 16 games on this history-making run.
“I have an older group that, those guys know they’re on a big stage, but again, let’s be honest, all the experience and talent of these [teams] as well as the other four teams, I feel like we’re playing with house money at this point in time,” Gilmore said. “We have nothing to lose at all. There weren’t many people that thought we really, truly had an opportunity to get here with some of the things we’ve gone through. We’ll be very loose and competitive and we’ll give it our best shot.”
This has been a dream 21 years in the making for Gilmore, one embraced fully by a team loaded with productive juniors and seniors who have given the Chants a chance to play with just about anybody.
I don’t think we’ve played with pressure all year. This was definitely one of our goals. ... We’ve put ourselves in an opportunity now to compete for a national championship, and that’s just another goal. We’re honestly going to enjoy ourselves. We’re a fun group of guys, we like to have fun, we like to act like little kids and mess around, but we’re also here to compete and get after it. We’re going up against an unbelievably talented team so we’re really going to have to grind and focus and take what we can get.
CCU right fielder Connor Owings
And while that long-term goal has been achieved, the players don’t feel their job is done just yet.
“I don’t think any of the guys feel any pressure. We’ve made it to this point, that’s our goal, but also our goal is to win this thing and we want to come out, just play as hard as we can and see what happens,” junior designated hitter G.K. Young said, sounding a lot like his coach. “But I don’t feel like anybody feels any pressure. Now it’s time to just go have fun, play baseball and grind like we have been.
“We’re going to see what we’re made of. We’re ready to play them. Like I’ve said all year I think we’re the best team in the country and they’ve been ranked No. 1 so we’ll see what happens.”
Florida is loaded with hard-throwing arms both in its rotation and bullpen and benefits from the top-rated defense, statistically, in the SEC.
The Gators will go with junior right-hander Logan Shore on the mound Sunday night. Shore, who was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year and was drafted 47th overall by the Oakland A’s, comes into the game with a 12-0 record, 2.24 earned-run average and 89-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 100 1/3 innings.
We play great defense. That’s pretty much what we’ve prided ourselves on, pitching and defense this year and our offense has gotten better as we’ve gone along. But we’ve been very, very consistent. I think if there’s two things we’ve done all year, we’ve pitched fairly well and we’ve played really good defense.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan
He’ll be facing a Coastal Carolina offense that leads all Division I teams with 94 home runs, including four guys in senior third baseman Zach Remillard (19 homers), Young (17), senior right fielder Connor Owings (16) and junior shortstop Michael Paez (15) who have more home runs than anyone on Florida’s team. All four of those guys were also drafted last week.
“They’re good. They can hit and that’s one of the reasons they’re in Omaha,” Shore said. “They got past an extremely talented LSU team. We didn’t do so hot against LSU during the regular season, so we know how talented they are. To beat them in Alex Box Stadium, that’s pretty hard to do. So we’re definitely not taking them lightly and we’re going to come out ready to go.”
On the other side of the matchup, the Chants will start junior right-hander Andrew Beckwith, the Big South Pitcher of the Year. He comes into the matchup with a 12-1 record and 2.12 ERA. He allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings against LSU last weekend, but he had started that game with three scoreless frames before giving up a three-run homer.
Florida is led offensively by junior first baseman Peter Alonso, who is batting .373 with 18 doubles, 13 homers and 58 RBIs despite missing 10 games with a broken hand. He returned for the NCAA tournament and has batted .520 with four doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs in six games since.
“It’s nothing new to us right now, especially coming out of [LSU’s Alex Box Stadium] and taking two games,” Beckwith said. “As long as we stick with our process and take it one pitch, one inning [at a time] I think we should be fine.”
The winner Sunday night will face the winner of Texas Tech (47-18) and TCU (47-16) while the losers of those games will play an elimination game Tuesday.
No matter what happens, it’s going to be quite an experience for the Chants and their fans.
“It’s just a great honor to be here. What a fantastic opportunity and experience for my kids,” Gilmore said. “I think if any of you watched the emotion that came out of my group at the end of that game at LSU, you know how much this opportunity means to us just to be here and experience what these [other teams] have had an opportunity to do multiple times.”
NCAA College World Series
Who: Coastal Carolina vs. Florida
When: 8 p.m. ET
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
Radio: WSEA-FM 100.3