Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore has a simple postseason strategy.
“Keep finding ways to win,” said Gilmore, who was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year last week. “It doesn’t matter how pretty it is; just get the W.”
It certainly worked when he led the 2016 Chanticleers to the College World Series title. But there are a lot of little things that must come together for this year’s squad to make a return trip to Omaha.
Here are five big ones (all stats from the regular season):
1) Pitching in from the bullpen
Pitching depth is at a premium in the postseason, as the 2016 Chants learned when their staff was running on fumes in the final days in Omaha. This year’s starting staff doesn’t have the firepower of Andrew Beckwith, Alex Cunningham and Mike Morrison, but it does have a more balanced bullpen.
The 2016 team had three pitchers account for nearly half of the team’s total innings pitched (320 of 646) compared to 200 of 462 innings for the 2018 staff. CCU needs strong support for starters Jason Bilous (7 -2, 3.08 ERA) and Zack Hopeck (5-4, 4.26), and Omaha native and Matt Eardensohn (6-0, 1.69) is the ace in the hole.
“One of our biggest challenges is how we handle our pitching,” Gilmore said. “We need to get good outings from our starters and use our bullpen without extending them so they can go multiple days if needed.”
2) Ride the long ball to Omaha
This year’s team has one thing in common with the national championship squad - plenty of power. While the 2016 Chants belted 96 homers over the course of 73 games, this year’s group ranks in the top 10 nationally at a similar pace with 69 dingers in 55 games. Kevin Woodall Jr. (17) and Seth Lancaster (16) lead the way in long balls.
More impressive is the comparison of other power numbers. This year’s team already has more doubles (127 to 119) and one less triple (10 to 11) in 18 fewer games than in 2016. Cory Wood (17) and Lancaster (17) top the team in doubles, and Keiton Rivers has three triples. Those extra-base hits are the kinds that score runs, particularly the timely ones.
3) Defense wins (and loses) championships
The road to Omaha is littered with teams that found ways to lose. Maybe it’s an error at an inopportune time, or too many walks, or a bad base running blunder. Gilmore believes eliminating mistakes and minimizing their damage is critical.
“Consistency is so important this time of year,” Gilmore said. “If we can go out and play the way we have most of the year, not press too hard and avoid making fundamental mistakes, that’s half the battle.”
4) The “Ex” Factor: Experience
There’s one thing the 2018 team has that the 2016 squad didn’t - a championship tradition. The 2016 team created those lofty expectations, so the 2018 team has the benefit (and perhaps the pressure) of knowing it can be done.
The Chants also have several key players who have had a taste of Omaha and are ready to go back for seconds, including Lancaster, catcher Matt Beaird, and pitchers Bilous and Hopeck. That type of experience is vital.
“That’s a huge piece of the puzzle,” Gilmore said. “This is a different team, but a lot of our guys were a part of it in 2016. They weren’t necessarily star players, but they’ve seen it can be done and now it’s their opportunity in the spotlight. Those older guys have solidified us in leadership and they want it badly.”
5) Maintain momentum
The Chanticleers are coming off their first Sun Belt tournament title.
After dispatching Troy 11-6 Sunday, the Chanticleers earned the opportunity to host an NCAA regional. The four-team, double-elimination format includes the Chanticleers (1 seed), Connecticut (2 seed), Washington (3 seed) and LIU Brooklyn (4 seed).
The games begin Friday at Springs Brooks Stadium.
For the Coastal to reach Omaha, the Chanticleers will have to keep playing the kind of baseball that earned them the Sun Belt regular season crown and propelled them through the conference tourney.