Softball looks to rebound

Coastal Carolina University's softball team looks to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

A year ago, Coastal Carolina came within one win of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, falling to Louisiana-Lafayette 1-0 in the Sun Belt Championship game. 
This year, they look to return to that championship game for a different result. 
“There is a great amount of energy around the locker room right now,” said Coastal Carolina head coach Kelley Green. “They are playing with a great sense of passion.”
Green said the energy from the team is matched by a sense of competition.
“We were doing rundowns with our outfielders and a select number of infielders and they were actually competing,” Green said. “They were cheering for players staying in the rundown longer. It was a very competitive environment and that was in the first week back [in January]. It was exciting and pretty cool to see.”
The Chanticleers finished the 2019 season with a record of 39-21, one win shy of their first 40-win season since 2014.
Last season was full of promise. The Chants opened the season by nearly defeating No. 8 Tennessee. Following the opening day loss, Coastal went on a 10-game winning streak. Prior to conference play starting, the Chants were 15-4. 
One of the biggest reasons for Coastal's hot start was the pitching of senior Ashley Guillette. Guillette had a stellar career at CCU, winning 54 games in 141 appearances and recorded 586 strikeouts, third most in program history.
“You rebuild after losing a player like Ashley Guillette by bringing in players that you feel that can complete,” Green said. “We feel like we’ve brought in a good class. We also have some great returning pitchers like [Kaitlin Beasley-Polko]. So you have the combination of bringing in three freshman pitchers who are willing to compete and two returning pitchers who have gotten better. That’s promising going into the new season.”
Beasley-Polko is one of the two returning pitchers for the Chanticleers. She finished last season with a record of 23-13, appearing in 45 games and recording 172 strikeouts. 
Not only will Coastal return a great pitching staff, they also get back key hitters in their batting lineup. Courtney Dean and Taylor Sweigart missed the back end of the 2019 season due to knee injuries. Sweigart injured her knee on April 14 and three weeks later Dean tore her ACL in the final regular season weekend series versus Appalachian State. 
Swaggart was having a promising season after recovering from an injury in her freshman year in 2018. Dean was continuing a stellar sophomore campaign that saw her knock 28 career home runs, good enough for sixth all-time on the career home runs list.
Green talked about how big of a moment it will be when Dean gets back to her old ways and starts hitting them out of the park again.
“She will have a heightened sense of appreciation for her accomplishments,”  Green said. “I have no doubt that it will be a very special homerun for her.”
This season will certainly be filled with challenges. Coastal plays host to some strong teams.
The Chanticleers open their season with Virginia Tech, a team that went 47-11 in 2019 and made it all the way to the 2019 Lexington Regional.
Between March 6 and March 17, Coastal faces one of the toughest schedules in recent years. They will begin with a three-game series against defending Sun Belt champions Louisiana Lafayette and follow that up with an in-state matchup against South Carolina, a team that reached the regional final in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
After that, Coastal will travel out to San Marcos, Texas, to take on the 2018 Sun Belt champion Texas State. And on March 17, they host the 2018 College World Series champion Florida State. 
“It’s awesome,” said senior infielder Kassidy Smith. “There are teams out there that are Top 25 every single year that want to come out here.”
“We are very fortunate that we have a great location and a beautiful facility,” Green said. “Word gets around about how great this place is and that makes teams want to come here and play us or play in tournaments that we host. There is no finer place where anyone could play other than Coastal Carolina.”
The recent success that the Chanticleers have had against Power 5 opponents has also helped garner the attention of the top schools.
“We are really getting our name out there with the recent success that we are having and building that success each season,” junior infielder Taylor Sweigart said.
Coastal will have 30 home games this season. The first one is set for Friday against Virginia Tech.
First pitch is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. at St. John’s Stadium.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236


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