Buccilli homers twice to lift No. 25 Chants past Radford

In a game featuring two marquee pitchers, it was Coastal Carolina’s Alex Buccilli who stole the headlines, hitting two home runs, as the 25th-ranked Chanticleers opened Big South play with a 4-2 win at Radford Friday evening.

Coastal, who has not lost a league opener since 2003, improves to 17-7, 1-0, while the Highlanders drop to 14-12, 3-1.

The game featured two of the top pitchers in the Big South as Coastal’s Josh Conway (3-1) was the coaches’ pick for the preseason Pitcher of the Year with Radford’s Eddie Butler (2-2) being the runner-up for the honor. Conway and Butler were also ranked first and second, respectively, by Baseball America as the top pro prospects in the league.

However, Buccilli, a walk-on who has solidified the designated hitter role for this team, opened the scoring in the first with a two-out, solo home run over the right field fence. The blast was the first by Buccilli as a Chanticleer. He then gave Coastal some breathing room in the ninth with a second solo home run to provide the eventual 4-2 final.

However, the ninth inning had more fireworks in addition to Buccilli’s homer. With two out and a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Connolly’s payoff pitch was called ball four to Matt Hillsinger. After a single put runners in the corners, both coaches made changes in the lineup to play the percentages. First, Coastal brought in left-handed pitcher Austin Kerr to face left-handed pinch hitter Ryan Burgess.

Radford countered, pinching hitting right-handed Hunter Higgerson for Burgess. The move almost paid off for Radford as Higgerson hit a deep fly ball to left, but CCU’s Adam Eggnatz hauled in the ball at the fence to end the game. Kerr picked up his second save of the season.

Between the first and ninth innings, the Chants pushed their lead to 3-0 in the fourth. Buccilli drew a one out walk and scored on Daniel Bowman’s double to left-center field.  Two batters later, Tucker Frawley lined an RBI double down the third base line, plating Bowman.

Butler saved a run in the seventh. Ted Blackman singled with two out and stole back to back bases. Chris Suseck hit a soft liner to Butler, who made a leaping bare-hand catch to end the inning.

In the home half, Radford got a leadoff single from Jeff Kemp and Hillsinger mad eit a one-run game with a two-run, opposite field home run. The runs by the Highlanders were the first since the 2010 season as Coastal pitched four shutouts against Radford in 2011, including an Anthony Meo no-hitter in the Big South Tournament.

Conway pitched seven complete, allowing four hits and two runs with zero walks and six strikeouts. Connolly was very effective between Conway and Kerr, pitching 1.2 innings. He allowed one hit and the one walk. Offensively, Frawley added two hits and Rich Witten had an impressive streak snapped as he did not reach base safely (by hit/walk/hit by pitch) for the first time in 20 games.

For the Highlanders, Butler pitched 7.2 innings and struck out nine, allowing four hits, three runs and one walk.

Coastal and Radford will play game two of the series Saturday with first pitch set for 4 pm.

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