CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern will begin its run at a NCAA Tournament berth on Tuesday when the No. 7 seed Bucs face No. 2 Coastal Carolina in the first round of the 2015 Big South Baseball Championship presented by Hardee's and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. First pitch is at 9:30 a.m. at John Henry Ross Stadium on the Gardner-Webb campus in Boiling Springs, N.C.
The winner will advance to face the winner of No. 3 Winthrop vs. No. 6 Campbell on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. The loser's bracket game is at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Live stats are available live at csusports.com and the game will be carried on the Big South Network.
This week's champion earns the Big South's automatic berth into an NCAA Regional next weekend.
"We're excited to be in the tournament and play for a regional berth," CSU head coach Stuart Lake said. "It's been a tough season at times, but I still feel like we're very capable of being a really good team. If we're going to put it all together, this is certainly the time."
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUP
Game 1, Tues. 9:30 a.m. – CSU, RHP Evan Raynor (4-4, 79.2 IP, 2.71 ERA) vs. LHP Shane Sawczak (3-4, 4.71 ERA)
The Bucs and Chanticleers meet for the first time this season. The teams had played a series every season since 1988.
CSU's strength, especially in Big South play, has been its starting pitching. RHP Evan Raynor (4-4) will get the start in the Bucs' Big South opener. He is second in the league with a pair of complete games and has been a big part of the Bucs' fourth-best ERA in Big South play at 3.53. CSU is 10th nationally in strikeouts per nine innings at 8.9 and have a school record 459 strikeouts as a staff this season. LHP Andrew Tomsaovich will take the ball for the Bucs in game two.
"Our pitching is set up as well as it possibly could be," Lake said. "I feel like we have a three or four really good starters and some guys in our bullpen we can count on. If our offense gets going and a few balls bounce our way, we'll be in the mix late in the week."
The CSU offense has been better of late, piling up double digits in hits in four of its last six games. Although they had their hitting streak snapped this weekend, junior Bryan Dye and Nate Blanchard have been among the hottest players in the Big South over the last month. Dye had a 20-game hitting streak snapped on Friday and Blanchard a CSU season-best on streak end at 21 games on Sunday. Both played their way into new roles, Dye as the Bucs' starting first baseman and Blanchard as CSU leadoff man for, what could be, the next two seasons. Blanchard is batting .422 (35-for-83) dating back to early April.
Junior Sly Edwards got the opportunity to start at Radford two weeks ago and has made the most of his opportunity. He's batting .545 (12-for-22) over the last five games and has seen his average climb to .323.
The Bucs' bullpen has held things together well, despite losing CSU career saves leader Austin Weekley for much of the season. RHP Chayce Hubbard (4-0) is tied for second on the team with four wins in his setup spot. Senior RHP Denis Buckley has taken over the role as closer after starting early in the year and has a 3-4 record with four saves. RHP Jon Piriz has come on in some tough spots and been very effective in long relief. The trio has combined to make 65 appearances this season.
Coastal Carolina entered the final weekend of the regular season ranked No. 25 in the country before dropping two of three games on the road to Campbell. The Chanticleers enjoyed wins over the likes of Florida State, North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech and West Virginia in out-of-conference play, and highlighted their league slate with a series victory over Liberty.
Coastal features a balanced attack, as the Chanticleers led the Big South in ERA in conference play, while ranking second offensively with a .298 batting average. The Chanticleers clubbed 28 home runs in Big South play, seven more than second-place Radford. Catcher Casey Schroeder led the charge with 13 homers, while David Parrett added ten and three others hit seven or more. Anthony Marks led Coastal with a .355 batting average and reached base at .439 clip en route to ranking second in the league with 54 runs scored.