CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern faces off against the reigning Big South tournament champions on Thursday afternoon as the No. 7 Buccaneers square off in the first round of the double elimination tournament against No. 2 Longwood at the 2014 Big South Conference Championships presented by Musco Sports Lighting. First pitch between the Bucs and the Lancers is set for 5 p.m. at the CCU Softball Field on the campus of Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Buccaneers saw their tournament run come to an end last season against Longwood after a spirited run through the field that saw CSU eliminate Presbyterian and hand Coastal Carolina their first loss, while suffering both of their losses to the teams that squared off in the Championship Game in Winthrop and Longwood.
Coming into the tournament, the Buccaneers look to be clicking on all cylinders at the right time as their pitching trio of Jennifer Giles, Cheyenne Gandara and Morgan Dowdy are all coming off of dominant performances over the final three weeks of the season. The offense led by All-Conference Second Teamer Jessica Brock and Honorable Mention selection Lizzy Olmstead will look to balance their pitching efforts this weekend as the Buccaneers strive to get to back to the Championship game for the second time in three seasons.
Last Season's Tournament Run
Recapping the Buccaneers' tournament run last season, the No. 9 Charleston Southern squad staved off elimination in the opening game of the tournament against No. 8 Presbyterian. Jana Matthews connected on a pair of home runs, while Giles finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts as the Bucs topped the Blue Hose 7-2.
The win propelled Charleston Southern into an afternoon matchup against top-seed Coastal Carolina, and again the pitching efforts of Giles advanced Charleston Southern into the winners' bracket. The then-sophomore right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight in the contest against the Chanticleers, while Hayes Holdsworth drew a bases-loaded walk to provide Giles with all the support she needed in the 2-0 victory.
The second day of the tournament saw the Bucs handed their first loss in postseason play as Charleston Southern fell to Winthrop in a classic pitchers' duel with Sutton Watson besting Giles inside the circle in the CSU 2-1 loss. CSU's tournament run came to an end that evening against Longwood, falling 8-2 to the Lancers as Longwood finally got to a tiring Giles who was in the midst of throwing four games in two days.
Scouting the Buccaneers
This season, Charleston Southern brings an arguably more talented squad to the tournament as six players were recognized among the postseason Big South award winners with Brock and Olmstead joined by a trio of All-Freshman team selections in Stephanie Bergmann, Gandara and Amanda Matsumoto, as well as All-Academic selection Giles.
Brock earned Second Team honors at the utility position after a standout season that saw the Puyallup, Wash., native lead Charleston Southern in most of the major hitting categories on the season, including hits, home runs, RBI and slugging percentage. She led the Bucs with five home runs from the plate, including a season-high two in the series opener against Longwood, and added 18 runs scored and 29 RBI after missing last season due to an injury. This is the first postseason accolade for the senior athlete who enters the Big South tournament ranked in the top 10 in multiple CSU career categories.
Olmstead was named to the 2014 Big South All-Conference Honorable Mention team after leading the Buccaneers in batting average as the Brooksville, Fla., native hit .340 from the left side of the batter's box on the season. Olmstead finished third on the team with 16 runs scored and was second on the team in going a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen bases on the season.
Bergmann led all CSU freshmen with a .266 batting average at the plate and was one of two players in the Bucs' lineup to start all 55 games on the field for head coach Shane Winkler. Gandara led Charleston Southern on the season with a 2.36 ERA and 133 strikeouts, while also leading the Bucs inside the circle with 10 complete games. Matsumoto was the Bucs' team leader with 11 stolen bases and 24 runs scored on the season, earning Big South Player of the Week honors to open the year.
Jennifer Giles closed out the CSU award winners on the day, earning Big South All-Academic honors for the second season in a row. The Jupiter, Fla., native is a five-time Dean's List and CSU Scholar Athlete and a two-time Big South Presidential Honor Roll recipient, who used a strong junior season inside the circle to lead the Bucs with 10 wins and 21 starts on the season.
Seniors Stephanie Sbardella and Dowdy have also been among the team leaders on the season for the Buccaneers at both first base and on the mound.
Sbardella, a 2013 Big South Second Team selection at third base, joins Bergmann in starting all 55 games on the season and finished second on the team in both hits and RBI. She also was the team leader with 13 doubles on the season and reached base in 42 of the Buccaneers' 55 games.
Dowdy, meanwhile, after a slow start to the regular season, rounded back into form over the last three weeks as the senior right-hander showed off the ability that made her one of the top pitchers in the Big South in 2012 when she set the CSU single season record with 165 strikeouts. Over her final four appearances, the Pleasanton, Calif., native allowed two runs in 16.0 innings in picking up wins over both Gardner-Webb and Campbell.
Recapping the CSU-Longwood regular season matchup
The Buccaneers fell in both regular season appearances to the Lancers this season at the CSU Softball Field, dropping the first game of the doubleheader 6-5, while falling in the nightcap 7-2. The third game of the series was cancelled due to rainfall.
In the opener, Longwood rallied back from a 5-1 deficit in the top of the seventh inning as Justina Augustine connected on a three-run home run with none out, while Emily Murphy connected on the go-ahead two-run shot in the frame as the Lancers topped the Buccaneers, offsetting a pair of home runs by Charleston Southern's Jessica Brock in the game to pick up the series opening win. CSU freshman Cheyenne Gandara carried a no-hit bid into the fifth inning against the Lancers, but Murphy broke the bid up with a solo home run, leading to the eventual come-from-behind victory.
The nightcap saw CSU freshman Brooke Holcomb connect on a two-run blast in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Buccaneers' bats alive, but Longwood pitcher Elizabeth McCarthy shut down the CSU offense as the Bucs fell 7-2.
Scouting the Lancers
The Lancers came away with eight players earning Big South postseason accolades led by the 2014 Big South Player of the Year in Megan Baltzell.
Baltzell started all 52 games behind the plate for the Lancers on the season and is currently ranked second in the nation with a .590 on-base percentage and fourth with a .473 batting average. She is also on top of the Big South rankings in doubles (17), walks (38) and total bases (122) this season and adds totals of 47 runs, 69 hits, 10 home runs and 44 RBI to pace the Lancers' offense.
Sophomore shortstop Emily Murphy is also among the team's offensive leaders in garnering First Team All-Big South honors. Murphy led the Lancers with 22 stolen bases and hit two of her seven home runs this season against Charleston Southern in the Longwood comeback victory. She is also fourth in the Big South with 40 runs scored.
Inside the circle, McCarthy and Libby Morris both earned All-Big South Second Team honors with McCarthy leading the way with 19 wins and a team-best 1.55 ERA. She also added four shutouts to her totals on the season and had 139 strikeouts on the year. Morris finished with a 16-9 overall record and a 2.95 ERA, throwing 17 complete games on the season.
The winner between Charleston Southern and Longwood advanced to take on the winner of No. 3 Radford and No. 6 Presbyterian on Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. The loser moves into the loser's bracket and will take on the loser between the Highlanders and Blue Hose on Friday morning at 11:30 a.m.