Coastal Carolina is not a flash in the pan. The Chanticleers are a veteran-laden team that does baseball with heart, hustle, and the care-free attitude that comes with playing with house money. But don't call them Cinderella, because they aren't just happy to be here. They came to win it all, and two of the people that know them best believe that they can - and with good reason.
The play-by-play voice of the Chanticleers, Joseph Cashion, has been a presence with Coastal Carolina since 2003, when he began as a sideline reporter when the University started a football program. He has done play-by-play since 2014, and is calling the Chants up in Omaha.
Ryan Young is a reporter for The Sun News, the local paper out of Myrtle Beach, SC. Ryan has been following the team closely throughout the season, and has covered their incredible post-season run.
Both of these guys were kind enough to take some time out of their busy schedules up in Omaha to answer a few questions for us about CCU and what to expect from the team Tuesday night. This team reminds me a lot of TCU in 2010, and are just as dangerous for opponents. It should be a fun matchup with the 2016 version of the Frogs. So, without further ado, meet the Chanticleers.
1. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about this team? While they are certainly Cinderella in Omaha, success isn't new to this program by any means. How to CCU get to this point this year, and how have they been building up to a CWS run over the past few years?
Cashion: CCU arrived here after years of baseball excellence, now with 14 NCAA Regional appearances since 2001, two previous Supers (2008, 2010) before finally breaking through with the Super Regional win this year at LSU. This team just seems to have bonded, grown closer together through the course of the year, improved and now playing its best baseball of the season. Pitching has been lights out, we’ve gotten timely hits when we’ve needed them, defense has been great and our coaches have pushed all the right buttons. And I couldn’t be happier for HC Gary Gilmore, who in his 21st season at Coastal is so deserving to finally have a team here in Omaha.
Young: Coastal Carolina may seem like a Cinderella story to the fans in Omaha -- and they may be one to some extent -- but that's certainly not how the players see themselves. This program has been in the NCAA postseason 14 of the last 16 years with three super regional appearances. They were on the doorstep of making the College World Series in 2010 before losing two one-run games as a super regional host against eventual national champion South Carolina. After a brief regression, the Chanticleers began building back up last season and are now led by a core of seniors and juniors who have been playing together for three-plus years. That group produced six MLB draft picks last week, and from the onset this season they thought they had a chance to be here. Now, sweeping LSU on the road in the super regionals and beating Florida in their CWS opener, well, this has no doubt become a storybook season and perhaps more than anyone truly envisioned. But they aren't surprised to be in this position.
2. Frog fans don't know a whole lot about the players for the Chanticleers, other than we are all relieved we don't have to see Beckwith on the mound. Who are a couple names to know on offense as well as the pitching staff? Who makes this team go?
Cashion: Offensively, DH GK Young, 3B Zach Remillard, and SS Michael Paez have been terrific in the postseason. Remillard has hit 3 HR and driven in 12, both of which lead the team. Zach also drove in both runs with big hits in the 2-1 Florida win. I would say LF Anthony Marks is the straw that stirs the drink for this club. He’s so aggressive and sets the tone at the top of the order with the pressure he can put on the defense.
Young: Depth makes this team go. The Chants lead the NCAA with 94 home runs and have four players with 15 or more, including junior shortstop Michael Paez (.289 average, 15 homers, 17 doubles, 3 triples, 52 RBIs), senior right fielder Connor Owings (.374, 16 HRs, 18 doubles, 2 triples, 53 RBIs, .484 on-base percentage, .683 slugging percentage), junior designated hitter G.K. Young (.345, 17 HRs, 65 RBIs) and senior third baseman Zach Remillard (.350, 19 HRs, 16 doubles, two triples, 71 RBIs). All four of those guys were drafted last week -- with Paez going in the fourth round to the New York Mets -- and there's no telling which guy is going to be the one to carry the team in a particular game. But usually at least one or two of them make their impact. Pitching-wise, beyond Andrew Beckwith, the Chants have another front-line starter in junior right-hander Alex Cunningham (9-3, 3.58 ERA) and two strong relievers they trust in senior closer Mike Morrison (7-1, 1.06 ERA, 11 saves) and sophomore Bobby Holmes (6-2, 4.44 ERA), who has been a different pitcher down the stretch of the season. With a fresh bullpen thanks to Beckwith's gem Sunday night, they won't hesitate to go to Holmes as early as needed with Morrison also available to throw extended innings.
3. CCU got an incredible performance on the mound from Beckwith Sunday, who threw a complete game and held the Gators to a single run. Is there another pitcher on the staff who can give a similar performance Tuesday night against an equally as dangerous TCU offense, or will they turn to a very fresh bullpen to mix and match in the later innings?
Cashion: I’m assuming RHP Alex Cunningham will get the start against TCU and he’s more than capable of getting the job done. He’s much more of a "traditional" pitcher than Beckwith, as he won’t drop down and give you different arm angles. And he’s not likely to give you a complete game like Beckwith did (which was Beckwith’s first ever CG). Alex has only one CG in his career. He did a great job in the Super Regional clincher vs LSU, going 7.1 and allowing only 2 runs. If he gets us 5+ quality innings and then we go to the bullpen, we’d likely go to RHP Bobby Holmes who has been terrific this postseason, winning both LSU games with great relief efforts. RHP Mike Morrison is our closer and he’s 7-1 with 10 saves. Using only one pitcher vs. Florida was a huge plus for us, as we’ll go into the TCU game with everyone rested and available (minus Beckwith of course).
Young: To piggyback on that last answer, Cunningham is very capable and was the team's ace to start the season before Beckwith essentially forced his way into that role with his performance. A 28th-round pick of the Detroit Tigers, he has move velocity and is a traditional over-the-top pitcher, as opposed to Beckwith's deceptive side-arm, over-the-top mix. In the super regional clincher at LSU last weekend, Cunningham threw 7.1 innings and held the Tigers to two runs (albeit while allowing 10 hits). But yes, the Chants won't hesitate to go to the bullpen as early as necessary.
4. I noticed the aggressiveness that the Chanticleers play with against UF; always looking for an extra base, swinging at first pitches, and playing as loose and free as any team I have seen at this point in the season. Is that a part of their identity as a whole, or something that they broke out for the CWS?
Cashion: This team has been a loose group all season in my opinion. Aggressiveness is also a trait for this bunch which didn’t just show against Florida. This team just doesn’t feel the pressure other teams here may feel. We had a team dinner Saturday night at a local restaurant, hosted by the team sponsor here in Omaha, and it was like a comedy hour. Everybody was laughing, having fun and just enjoying themselves. As it should be. Nobody expected this team to be here so they’re just going with it and living in the moment.
Young: This program has always prided itself on excelling at small ball and taking extra bases. It just so happens that they have a plethora of power this year as well, but that hasn't always been the case in past years and the small-ball principles are more the staple of coach Gary Gilmore's strategy. As for being loose, yeah, that's become the defining quality of this bunch. They truly don't seem fazed by anything. They were down two runs entering the ninth inning of their NCAA regional finale before loading the bases with one out and then waiting 14 hours through an overnight weather delay to resume and score four runs to seize the game. They came from behind in their first super regional game at LSU, and in the clincher they blew a lead in the top of the ninth only to work out of a bases loaded jam and win it in the bottom of the ninth. And then Sunday night against Florida. This group doesn't seem to feel pressure.
5. Getting an opening win in your first CWS appearance against the #1 seed is the stuff of dreams, and not many people outside of the program would have predicted that result. Of course, most people wouldn't have predicted that CCU would blow through the regional and super regional rounds to even get to Omaha. After all the giants they have slayed, what's a realistic expectation for this team for the rest of the CWS?
Cashion: I think a realistic expectation the rest of the way is we can win this thing. Not saying we’re going to but there is no reason to think we can’t. We can play with any team in the country. This team didn’t come here satisfied with just being here.
Young: I honestly wasn't surprised Sunday night. A few weeks ago I would have been, but the way they had to win that regional at NC State and the way they shook off a potential debacle in the ninth inning of the super regional clincher at LSU has only reaffirmed to this group that they can overcome anything and play with anybody. What's realistic? Hard to say. I don't know that they have the pitching beyond their top two starters to keep knocking off these kind of teams, and they are thin in the bullpen if that gets exposed. So there are definite weaknesses, but nothing would surprise me as this point.
6. Not sure how much you know about TCU, but is there a player or two that you think CCU might have trouble with at the plate? Is there someone specifically you are worried about facing?
Cashion: Clearly I think we would be concerned about Luken Baker, who slammed the 3-run homer to beat Texas Tech. Baker is impressive, leads the team in RBIs and is only a freshman. Josh Watson is the team leader in HR so he’s a most dangerous guy to deal with as well.
Young: Well, certainly Luken Baker stands out, but at this point of the postseason every team has tough hitters in the lineup. I don't think there is anything in this matchup different than some previous teams they've faced. TCU seems to have solid depth throughout the batting order and will no doubt be one of the better offensive teams Coastal Carolina has faced.
7. And, last but not least, what are your predictions for how the game against TCU plays out? Can CCU keep the dream alive, or will the Frogs force them into a longer road back?
Cashion: Predictions can be tricky but I would say the team with the best pitching and defense wins. That’s what it takes in this park. Coastal really didn’t take advantage of the opportunities they had against Florida, made some base-running blunders and left a bunch of guys out there yet still won. We can’t do that often and continue to win here in Omaha. If Cunningham can give us 5+ with our staff rested and ready, I love our chances. It should be a great game.
Young: I think Coastal Carolina plays a very competitive game, especially with its bullpen fully fresh and available should the team run into any trouble early in the game. I also think the Chants are going to produce enough offense to stay competitive. I have no specific prediction, though. With two great teams playing, one more used to this stage but the other with a wave of momentum, anything could happen, of course.
Thank you again to Mr. Cashion and Mr. Young for their time. I think it's safe to say we would all be big Chanticleer fans if they were on the other side of the bracket.