Monday, May 31, 2010

Can They Get to Omaha?

The days of Coastal Carolina flying under the radar in college baseball are long gone. The Chanticleers earned a national seed (#4) with 51 wins and a non-conference resume that justified the lofty accolades. The program has evolved. First it became a year in and year out NCAA qualifer. Then it became worthy of a #1 seed. Now, it's a legitimate contender for not only the College World Series, but a national title.

Gary Gilmore knows about the walls that this program has knocked down. Now, it has everything you could possibly ask for heading into the post-season. Home field advantage is huge. Not only for this weekend, but for the Super Regionals as well. Coastal does not have to go anywhere to get to Omaha.

Getting to Rosenblatt Stadium is far from an easy path. The Chanticleers have to deal with the College of Charleston who have won five straight games against CCU. Then there's the possibility of a Super Regional showdown with the Gamecocks. If USC comes to the beach facing the Chants with a trip to Omaha on the line, it very well could be a road game for CCU with Gamecock fans doing what they do best - filling the stands in almost every sport.

On the flip side, the Chants have a lot going for them. Rico Noel and Scott Woodward get things going by getting on base and then disrupting the basepaths. From there, you can just pick anyone else in the lineup who is capable of driving in runs. CCU can play small ball and they can play long ball. When regular DH Steve Davis was ruled academically ineligble it opened the door for freshman Josh Conway to become an everyday player. Rich Witten had an explosive Big South tournament and he's still on the bench. Coastal has not been shut out this year and there's no reason to believe that the bats will go silent in June.

The Coastal pitching staff has two proven starters in Anthony Meo and Cody Wheeler. The bullpen has depth with Ryan Connelly and Matt Laney setting up Austin Fleet. Keith Hessler and Matt Rein have proven that they can come in and get the Chants to the late innings when called upon. Rein's worst performance of the year came during CCU's last loss to the College of Charleston. It wouldn't be surprising at all that Rein will get his chance at redemption and it could be the difference between winning the regional or heading home.

The real key to Coastal's Omaha fortunes will come down to the only mystery about the 2010 Chants. Who will step up and be the third starter? It used to be Jim Birmingham and Josh Conway has been the latest experiment. Gary Gilmore has an interesting dilemma. Does he start Conway or Birmingham on Friday against Stony Brook and save Wheeler and Meo for the weekend? Or does he stick with the Friday-Saturday combo of Wheeler and Meo and give the ball to the TBD third starter to try and win the regional? Whichever way Gilly goes, the #3 starter will be the key to CCU's fortunes. If Conway or Birmingham or one of the relievers can step in and give some quality innings, Coastal should be ready to live up to its #4 national seed.

June can be one of the slow months on the local sports calendar, but Coastal Carolina could be keeping us busy for the next thirty days or so. The atmosphere in the 2007 regional at BB&T Coastal Field was incredible and it should be matched starting this Friday. If you haven't seen this team in person, you should do yourself a favor and get a ticket this weekend - you won't be disappointed.