Coastal Carolina celebrates winning the 2018 Sun Belt tournament (Eric Sorenson)

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The Chants Win Their Way Home

At The Ballpark

In the post-game huddle after his team beat Troy to become the Sun Belt Champions today, Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore was overheard telling his players “leave a legacy.”

When I asked him about it in the press conference afterward, he was effusive in his response.

“It’s something we talk about a lot,” he said. “It’s part of their responsibility. It’s about being a good teammate to everybody in the dugout. Loving the guy beside you is a big part of this thing. It’s a lot easier to give up and back down. But when you care about every guy in the dugout and don’t want to let them down, that’s the part I want to get passed down from the juniors and seniors on our team. That’s how you win championships like we did today.”

Gilly got what he wanted for most of the game today.

“We were focused for five or six innings today, you could see it,” he said. “We fought through two-strike counts, were six-for-six in getting guys to score from third base. That’s huge. That’s how you win. We want these guys to police themselves and get themselves ready to play. In this generation of ‘me’ and selfishness, these guys have been incredibly selfless and represent the idea of what we want them to stand for.”

Donning the championship shirts and hats, Gary Gilmore talks to his charges after the win over Troy.

In other words, these Chanticleers are good. And they are a tight-knit team with a singular purpose. And it showed today as they jumped on Troy early, withstood a charge and then blasted their way to a mostly breezy win to claim their first ever Sun Belt Conference tournament title. 

“These guys wanted a ring,” coach Gilmore said. “They told me they wanted a ring and they played like it.”

As I tweeted out earlier today, this was as close to a dog pile as the Chanticleers got today. And they kept telling each other, “We’ve got work to do.”

 

SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
.Troy – 100 011 210 – 6  11  0
CCU – 022 050 02x – 11 13  2

WP: Zack Kopeck, 6-4
LP: CJ Carter, 8-5
Save: None

Talk about an efficient win. The Chanticleers were able to jump on the Trojans for two runs in the second, two runs in the third and then five runs in the fifth inning to race out to a 9-2 lead. At that point in the game, CCU had nine run on just eight hits. They also managed to cull four walks and a hit batsman in there as well, capitalizing on the Trojan mistakes to build the big lead.

The biggest early game blows came from Sun Belt Tournament MVP Zach Biermann, who stroked a two-run double and freshman Parker Chavers, who knocked in the initial run of the game with a single in the second inning and an RBI triple in the fifth. 

“You could feel us relax a little after we got out to that big lead,” coach Gilmore said. “And that’s not a good thing to do against a lineup like Troy. We went from having a seven run lead to just a three run lead in what seemed like no time.” 

He’s right, Troy did make a comeback, as you knew they would. Single runs in the fifth and sixth seemed innocuous enough, but two more runs in the seventh off the bats of Brandon Lockridge and Rigby Mosley had the Trojans crawling within four. A Cole Prestegard solo bomb in the eighth suddenly closed things to within a field goal. 

But Coastal would regain that “focus” coach Gilmore talked about. A pair of seniors in Seth Lancaster and Kevin Woodall would help the Chants re-grip the commanding lead with back-to-back yard calls in the bottom of the eighth, accounting for the 11-6 final score. 

Seth Lancaster and Kevin Woodall hit back-to-back home runs in the 8th to put the game on ice.

“I felt like I could finally breathe again,” Gilmore said, when asked about how he felt after those two late-inning home runs. Junior reliever Matt Eardensohn took the hill in the final two innings to put the finishing touch on this championship drive, getting four K’s in his six outs. 

This Chanticleer team may not have the talent in the upperclassmen like their national championship team did but they are starting to exude the same type of grit that the champs did. And it showed today.

Matt Eardensohn signals the final out of the game… and the position his team sits in the Sun Belt ranks.

HOME FOR THE REGIONALS
Just as I was finishing up writing about the Chanticleers and their Sun Belt title, the news came across the crawl on ESPN that the Teal Boys were going to get their first home Regional at Springs Brooks Stadium in Conway. That was surprising news for sure since coach Gilmore was talking after last night’s win about how he would have loved a home Regional for the fans but it wasn’t in the offing. Here is the quote from last night’s story following the win over South Alabama… 

“The selection committee’s decision doesn’t concern me at all,” coach Gilmore said. “Would I like to play at home next weekend? Sure, I’d like it for our fans. But when we won the national championship we didn’t play at home. So it doesn’t really matter. You know, everybody is good at this time of year. It’s all about matchups or getting a favorable draw. When you play a two or a three seed in the NCAA Tournament, everybody is going to have a real dude starting for them on Friday and can beat you.”

The interesting thing was seeing Coastal’s RPI rise from No. 19 to No. 17 after the win over Troy. They were still one spot behind UConn in the rankings, but I suppose their winning a conference title trumped the Huskies and their 14-10 finish in the American. 

THEY’RE IN IF THEY’RE SMARTT
Talked briefly with Troy head coach Mark Smartt about his hopes for making the field of 64. As I wrote about last night, coach Smartt said “I know what Regional teams look like and our team has strength, speed, defense and certainly the pitching…” He reminded me today after the game that he “hopes his team gets rewarded with a bid.” With an RPI at No. 39, and being a mid-major, that’s usually a good sign. 

Any write-up about the Trojans just wouldn’t be complete without a picture of Manning Early doing a Pete Rose-type slide.

 

Man, I just freakin’ love taking pics of Troy’s C.J. Carter doing his pitching thing. Today Carter was laced with the loss to drop to 8-5 on the year after giving up four runs in 3.0 innings. Better days ahead C.J., better days indeed.

 

The Troy dugout looked a little bummed during the 9th inning, but they *probably* have another weekend of baseball to look forward to. Right, NCAA Selection Committee?

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