SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
15. Coastal Carolina
2016 Record (Ranking): 55-18 (1). RPI: 5.
Coach (Record at school): Gary Gilmore (847-438, 21 years).
Postseason History: 15 regionals (active streak: 2), 1 CWS trip (2016), 1 national title (2016).
Throughout its history as a Division I program, Coastal Carolina was always fighting the uphill battle so many mid-majors do, trying to gain national respect. Now, the Chanticleers find themselves on the other end of the equation—they’re the reigning national champs, the team that’s going to get every opponent’s best shot for 56 games.
“It’s not like you didn’t get that last out and you use that to motivate yourself,” head coach Gary Gilmore said. “That’s our greatest challenge, having had the ultimate success, how do we respond to it? . . . That’s probably one of the things I’m most excited to get after is seeing what’s going to happen when everybody comes gunning for you with a little bit extra, how are we going to react to it.”
The other challenge is reconstructing a lineup that returns just a couple everyday players, losing heart-and-soul seniors like Anthony Marks and Zach Remillard. Last year’s Chants led the country in home runs, with four players hitting at least 15. Now, all four are gone. Outside of Kevin Woodall, who moves into an everyday role this spring, the Chants don’t really those kinds of power threats this time around. But they still have no shortage of guys that can handle the bat.
Freshmen Cory Wood and Dax Roper have the tools to make an immediate impact in Coastal’s lineup, along with a pair of transfers in Wood Myers (North Carolina via Chipola (Fla.) JC) and Jordan Gore (South Carolina). With Myers and Gore taking over the middle infield spots, Seth Lancaster, one of CCU’s few veterans, slides over to Remillard’s old spot at third base, where he shows a strong arm and the potential to take another step forward with his power production.
“We’re not going to be as brutally powerful in the middle of the order this year as we were last year,” Gilmore said. “But I think our athleticism may be a little bit increased with the guys we can run up there, and the pitching and defense have a chance to be better.”
Outside of departed closer Mike Morrison, every other key piece of last year’s pitching staff is back, boosted by the unexpected return of Alex Cunningham for his fifth-year senior season after being a 28th-round pick in last year’s draft. Andrew Beckwith, the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s College World Series, goes in as the presumptive Friday starter after splitting last season between starting and relieving. Beckwith has added over 10 pounds of muscle since last season, now touching up to 93 mph on the radar gun, to go along with his ability to confound hitters with his variety of arm slots.
If Jason Bilous, who has the best stuff on the staff according to Gilmore, can harness it consistently on Sundays, the Chants’ rotation should have no problem carrying the load in the early going while the offense sorts itself out. Replacing Morrison in the bullpen won’t be easy, but Bobby Holmes has experience pitching at the end of games too, and lefty setup man Austin Kitchen dominated most of last season before injuries kept him from pitching in Omaha.
One other challenge to add to the list is Coastal’s move to the Sun Belt Conference, where it should face more rigorous competition after years of being the unquestioned top dog in the Big South Conference. The Sun Belt produced multiple NCAA tournament teams last year—Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama—and does so fairly routinely. But as Gilmore put it, “that’s why you coach.”
“I think this team will be a really competitive team,” he said. “I’ll be very disappointed in all of us if we’re not.”
|C||Matt Beaird, Jr.||.208||.338||.233||0||18||0|
|1B||Kevin Woodall, Jr.||.207||.333||.326||3||17||0|
|2B||Wood Myers, Jr.||Tr.—Chipola (Fla.) JC|
|3B||Seth Lancaster, Jr.||.326||.457||.509||7||35||15|
|SS||Jordan Gore, R-Jr.||Tr.—South Carolina|
|LF||Cory Wood, Fr.||HS—Raleigh, N.C.|
|CF||Billy Cooke, Jr.||.324||.415||.429||3||36||27|
|RF||Dalton Ewing, Jr.||.133||.341||.333||2||5||8|
|DH||Dax Roper, Fr.||HS—Honea Path, S.C.|
|RHP||Andrew Beckwith, Sr.||15||1||1.85||117||75||2|
|RHP||Alex Cunningham, R-Sr.||10||4||3.62||119||98||1|
|RHP||Jason Bilous, So.||3||1||4.43||45||47||0|
|RP||Bobby Holmes, Jr.||7||2||4.2||84||74||4|