Up The Coast

Coastal Carolina looks to take next step after historical season


Nov. 1, 2007

By Douglas Kroll

CSTV.com

 



DOUG KROLL

Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball.
E-mail here!

Winning can be contagious. Especially when your biggest competitors are succeeding. Just ask Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore. His Chanticleers have been successful now for nearly a decade under his tutelage, and they just keep getting better.

 

It's the stiff competition that has risen in South Carolina that has certainly helped put Coastal Carolina on the national scene. Two 50-plus win seasons in the last three years also tend to help the cause. Not to mention the Myrtle Beach Regional the Chants hosted in 2007, their first in school history.

 

As Gilmore enters his 13th season in Conway, there's an expectation level now that is never been there before. Fans and administration alike now know baseball will be played into June; it's now just a matter of how far.

 

"Everyone around here thinks we're going to do it again," Gilmore said with a laugh. "They are putting a lot of pressure on us for the first time ever. Not to downplay it at all, but the whole experience of last year was just so great for the older kids after struggling the year before.

 

"I think we're on the right path. We've been in the championship game in the regional three times in the last seven years."

 

The 2007 season may have been a defining year for the program, but it's a season that still ended with an in-state rival claiming a regional victory in the postseason tournament that they were hosting. That can never leave a good taste in anyone's mouth - especially when it was Clemson sending them packing for the summer with a 15-3 victory.

 

So what has prevented the Chanticleers from taking that next step past the regionals? Just like it is for most teams, it all comes back to depth.

 

"The key to what all mid-majors are trying to do is having a pitcher that can go in that second championship game [in the regional]," Gilmore said. "We haven't been able to do that. We've matched up with teams from the SEC, ACC or Pac-10 for the first three games, but it's that fourth and fifth games that have hurt us."

 

As the 2008 season rapidly approaches, depth will become even more of an issue, thanks to the new uniform start date of Feb. 22. Teams will now rely upon a fourth and fifth starter every week, something that has never really been an issue in the past.

 

But like many things in life, there's a silver lining to the depth issue. Gilmore says that in the past, by the fifth game of a regional, he has nobody left to pitch. Working with five starters during the regular season, could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

 

"Last season we didn't have to prepare a fifth starter all season before having to do so against Clemson [in the fourth game of the regional]," Gilmore said. "It's going to be a struggle for everyone to run five starters out there and have a bullpen you can count on five days a week. It's going to be a big challenge, but what I think it's going to do, if we get into the situation again in a regional, we now have guys to call on since we're being forced to [during the regular season]."

 

Gilmore's staff has had their work cut out during the fall. Some of the biggest arms and bats are gone off last season's 50-13 team, including Friday night starter Andy DeLaGarza. While the senior didn't have ace-like numbers, he was still a solid rock at the front of the rotation.

 

That torch will now be passed to junior New Jersey native Bobby Gagg, who led to the team in wins (12), ERA (2.57), innings pitched (112.0) and strikeouts (84). Those are numbers that Gilmore will rely upon in '08.

 

"I think that he has to be the guy that goes out on Friday night's now and competes against the other team's No. 1," Gilmore said of his new ace. "I think Bobby relishes that. It's been very seldom in his two years here that he hasn't given us a chance to win when he's gone out and pitched. That's the greatest testament for any pitcher, even when you have your B-minus stuff going, you look up at the scoreboard and you still have a chance to win."

 

As for the lineup, Gilmore returns one of the most underrated outfielders in the nation in senior Tommy Baldridge. Baldridge led the team with a .383 batting average and 58 RBI to go along with 13 home runs. Also back is reigning Big South Player of the Year, junior David Sappelt (.350, 10 HR, 50 RBI).

 

Gone are the likes of power-hitting first baseman Chris Raber (17 home runs) and senior leader Matt Rademacher from a team that hit .321 last season. Replacing them will be a tough task, but is not something that can't be done.

 

"We have some big shoes to fill, and are being replaced by either true freshmen or guys who were getting little to no playing time," Gilmore said. "Those guys are very unproven and only time will tell how good they are. There's a difference between when a senior hitter is going up there rather than a freshman. But I think we'll have a growing pain or two and be okay."

 

The Chants will look to get off to a good start, something that is certainly possible considering they will host four in-season tournaments in the first month of the year, including the IMIChotels.com INN-vitational, Baseball at the Beach (in Myrtle Beach), Springmaid Beach Resort Tournament and the Centex Homes Invitational.

 

Coastal will see the likes of Maryland, Western Carolina and Michigan plus others come to town. Four such tournaments are a rarity, especially being able to host all of them, but it's something that Gilmore feels will help in the long-run, especially when taking into account his team went 33-5 at home last season.

 

"It gives an opportunity for teams from power conferences to come in and play," Gilmore said. "But also in a three-game series, the excitement of playing an opponent is gone by Sunday. In a tournament, that's not the case. It's a great atmosphere to play in. Not to mention the layout is close to that of the postseason."

 

Taking that next step is always the hardest, especially with expectations at an all-time high. But if the past is any indication, the Chants will continue their climb.

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