HIGH POINT, N.C.—Just a few minutes down the road from Greensboro, where Florida State and Virginia were meeting in a game that had no ramifications on the ACC tournament outcome, Coastal Carolina took on Liberty for the Big South title at High Point.
It was a familiar result: Coastal won 4-1, winning its 15th straight Big South tournament game and its 17th straight game against Liberty to capture its sixth straight Big South tourney championship. But this Coastal team isn't a steamroller like the other recent Chanticleer teams have been, and this team had to grind its way to a championship. That made Sunday's win even more gratifying for Chanticleers coach Gary Gilmore.
"We've had more adversity—our two top freshmen never threw a pitch all year for us, we lose (ace Josh) Conway halfway through the year, and our starting pitching has been iffy down the stretch," Gilmore said. "But the two submarine guys and the rest of that bullpen have been lights out. We've found ways, we've gotten better defensively the majority of the time. And our older guys have just carried us offensively—it's just been wonderful."
Coastal's two submarine righthanders, Aaron Burke and Ryan Connolly, were the story of the tournament. Burke came out of the bullpen to get the win in Coastal's opener (5.1 IP, 1 ER) and third game (4.1 IP, 0 R). Connolly earned the win in relief in games two (6 IP, 0 R) and four (5.1 IP, 0 R). All told, the duo combined to allow just one run in 21 innings over four games.
"For me it's hard to pick who's the MVP—it's got to be both of them guys, because they both were basically lights out," Gilmore said. "We got three, maybe four innings out of every starter, that's all we got. Those two guys finished basically every game."
In the championship game, starter Tyler Herb pitched into the fourth, working in the 87-89 mph range. The Chanticleers called upon Connolly with two on and no out in the fourth, and he baffled Liberty hitters until the ninth, attacking the zone with a 78-79 mph fastball with arm-side run and sink, a sweeping slider in the 64-68 range and a maddeningly slow curveball at 55-59. Occasionally he mixed it up by going to an overhand slot to throw a 58-60 curve, which he used for a strikeout to end the seventh.
"The whole design when we brought those two guys (Connolly and Burke) in here was, OK, we get five innings out of our starters, go one time through the order with those guys, then have a power guy at the back end," Gilmore said. "Our power guys got hurt, and it's just been piecemeal. Coach (Drew) Thomas has done a great job with out pitching staff; it's incredible what he's done."
Tar Heels Top Wolfpack In Classic
Watching Connolly drive hitters bonkers was a treat Sunday, and watching Carlos Rodon do his thing for N.C. State immediately after was just as fun, although two pitchers could not be more different. Rodon is N.C. State's flame-throwing lefthander, the ACC freshman of the year and pitcher of the year. He took on rival North Carolina in front of a capacity crowd of 10,229—the largest ever to watch a college baseball game in the state of North Carolina. The crowd was perfectly blended between light blue shirts and red shirts, making for an electric atmosphere.
And the game was worthy of the environment. The two teams battled to a scoreless tie until the 12th, when UNC finally broke through for four runs against the N.C. State bullpen to win 4-0. It easily ranked as the best college game I've attended this year.
"We feel like we both have two of the best teams in the country, and (N.C. State) coach (Elliott) Avent and I were talking about it before the game, and hopefully we gave the crowd what they came to see," said UNC associate head coach Scott Forbes, who led the team in place of Mike Fox (serving a one-game suspension because of a post-game ejection).
Rodon was as good as advertised, allowing just four hits over nine shutout innings and tying a career high with 12 strikeouts. His fastball sat in the 91-94 mph range—even in the ninth inning—and his 83-86 slider was devastating.
"Kind of amazing, really. It usually doesn't happen, but every pitch I threw was working," Rodon said.
UNC's own talented freshman, righthander Benton Moss, matched Rodon into the sixth, exiting after 5 1/3 innings of two-hit, shutout ball. His slow curveball was particularly effective, helping him rack up five strikeouts.
The Tar Heels entrusted the game to closer Michael Morin in the eighth, and he took it from there. Morin was nearly untouchable, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out five over five shutout innings to get the win. As usual, his 71-73 mph changeup was disappearing, and he showed solid fastball velocity, reaching 90-91. Not bad considering he didn't feel his best.
"I would say I was a little more fatigued than normal," Morin said. "I got sick, and I don't know what it was, maybe food poisoning or something like that for the first couple games. There's 10,000 people out there, so it's not really something that you really need to push through."
It was a special performance on a memorable night.
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog