CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern took advantage of a two-out error in the bottom of the eighth, opening the door for a three-run inning and a resilient 6-4 victory over 20th-ranked Coastal Carolina in the first game of the final home series of the 2016 season.
The win moved CSU to within a game of the eighth and final spot in the Big South Conference Championship, with five league games remaining. CSU head coach Stuart Lake was proud of a gutsy effort against a Chanticleers squad in contention to host an NCAA Regional.
"Coastal's been the team in our conference since I played here," Lake said after the Bucs' third win in four games. "That's really been our benchmark, and they're as good as they've ever been. Just so proud of Evan Raynor and Cody Maw to pitch like they did against these guys. We've got two games left this weekend, obviously, but just want to really enjoy it for these seniors tonight."
Raynor kept CSU in the game against Coastal's powerful lineup, and the Buccaneers (18-29, 5-14 Big South) completed their rally from a 4-0 deficit in the eighth. Trailing 4-3 with two outs, pinch hitter Mason McClellan hit a grounder toward Chanticleer first baseman Kevin Woodall, who came into the game as a defensive replacement to begin the inning. Woodall was unable to field the ball cleanly and it got behind him, allowing Chris Singleton and Sly Edwards to race across and put CSU on top.
Coastal reliever Bobby Holmes followed with a pair of walks, the second to Brandon Burris which forced in the third run of the inning. Cody Maw allowed a leadoff single in the ninth but retired the final three batters to earn his first career win, finishing with two strikeouts in two innings of shutout relief.
"This team hasn't had many of them (breaks) and you feel bad for the guy that makes it on the other team but this team deserved to have one of those go our way," Lake said. "I thought Maw was terrific. They're so left-handed hitting dominant and their left-handed hitters are good hitters. We felt like he would give them a different look, obviously, than Raynor, and he just threw a ton of strikes."
The Chanticleers (34-15, 16-3) jumped on Raynor early, taking a 4-0 lead on two-run homers by Billy Cooke in the second and Michael Paez an inning later. Raynor, making the final home start of his career, settled down after that and worked seven innings, allowing six hits while fanning eight in taking the no-decision.
The Bucs began their comeback in the home half of the third against Coastal starter Alex Cunningham. With two on and one out, Nate Blanchard lined an RBI single into right center to plate Ryan Maksim, Cole Murphy scored when Singleton reached on a fielder's choice grounder to third.
A solo homer to right off the bat of Bryan Dye cut the CSU deficit to 4-3 in the fourth, the final run until the dramatic Buc rally in the eighth. Raynor kept CSU close by stranding Coastal runners in scoring position in four straight innings, inducing Zach Remillard to ground out to short with a runner at second in the seventh to end his evening.
"It's big time," Raynor said after throwing 124 pitches. "Just a great team win. We never give up. Just battle until the last out and today it showed. I just kept attacking. Those two home runs I fell behind so I needed to attack. I let my defense work behind me and I got some big strikeouts when I needed it."
Mike Sconzo went 4-for-4 to lead a 10-hit CSU attack, and his infield single up the third base line in the eighth played a pivotal role in the Buc comeback.
Game two of the series is Saturday at 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on the Big South Network.