Cougars drop two pitching duels at Super Regional

cofc-scoopIf someone had told College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee that his Cougars would only allow two runs during their NCAA Super Regional against Texas Tech, he would have taken it.

The catch: They forgot to tell him his team would fail to score.

No. 16 College of Charleston’s thrilling run to the NCAA Super Regionals came to an emotional end on Sunday afternoon in their second consecutive 1-0 defeat at the No. 10 Red Raiders. Texas Tech advanced to the College World Series for the first time in its program history.

The Cougars (44-19) ended the season tied for the most wins ever under sixth-year head coach Monte Lee and tied the fourth-most wins in a season in program history. College of Charleston advanced to the program’s second Super Regional after claiming the CAA Tournament championship and NCAA Gainesville Regional title over the tournament’s second-seeded team in Florida.

For the second-straight game, Charleston’s starting pitching was phenomenal as freshman Bailey Ober (10-3) went eight innings and allowed just one run on six hits. He struck out four and did not allow a walk. For Ober, it marked his 12th quality start of the year; the second-most quality starts in a single season behind Nick Chigges’ 13 quality starts in 2006.

A native of Huntersville, N.C., Ober finished the season with an ERA of 1.52, the third-best ERA in a season in school history. His WHIP of .862 leads all NCAA freshman pitchers and currently ranks ninth in the country. Ober’s 106.2 innings pitched trailed only Nick Chigges for most innings in a single season.

In five NCAA postseason games, CofC allowed just nine earned runs for an ERA of 1.84. The Cougars limited Texas Tech, the Big 12’s top-ranked offense, to just two runs on 11 hits through two games.

“Our two starting pitchers did an outstanding job this weekend,” Lee said. “But you have to give Texas Tech credit.  They made big pitches in big situations, and we had a couple of opportunities. We had first and second today with our best hitter up in Carl Wise and he lines out to centerfield. Then the centerfielder makes a great play on that ball from Champ Rowland. I thought today we were better offensively than we were yesterday.”

Texas Tech’s Dylan Dusek (8-0) picked up the win with five scoreless innings, scattering one hit. Jonny Drozd did not allow a baserunner in the final two innings to get his second save of the Super Regional. The Red Raiders scored the game’s only run in the fourth inning off an RBI double from Adam Kirsch that scored Tyler Neslony.

Charleston had an opportunity to tie the game in the sixth inning off back-to-back leadoff singles from Blake Butler and Brandon Murray. However, Carl Wise laced a rocket to center field that was caught by Devon Conley and then reliever Cameron Smith recorded two strikeouts to get out of the inning.

The Red Raiders stole the momentum for good in the seventh inning when CofC pinch-hitter Alex Pastorius singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Ryan Welke. After a groundout to the pitcher, Champ Rowland hit a fly ball to right center that looked as if it would fall for the game-tying RBI. However, Conley ranged all the way from center field and made a diving catch to rob Rowland and preserve Tech’s 1-0 lead.

TTU did not get a baserunner in the final three innings of the game against Ober and Chase Henry in the ninth inning, but the Red Raider pitching and defense held off Charleston’s late rallies to preserve the 1-0 win and clinch a berth in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Despite a weekend rotation made up entirely of newcomers, including a redshirt-sophomore and two true freshmen, College of Charleston set a new program record for the best team ERA in a single season at 2.73. CofC posted a program-best opponent batting average of .224, while Cougars allowed the fewest walks per nine innings in program history (2.55). CofC also tied the program record with 20 team saves in a season, led by senior Michael Hanzlik’s record-setting 16 save campaign.

CofC’s defense set a new program record with a fielding percentage of .973, as the Cougars turned 41 double plays and made 16 outfield assists.

“We’ve always had high expectations, and we try to preach to our guys that if we do certain things very well, that we have a chance to play in Omaha and we came close,” Lee said. “We came close. We didn’t get there, but we’ve had these types of expectations. I’ve got to give our players credit, our pitchers and defense were good throughout the whole postseason, and we had some big hits leading up to this weekend. I’m very proud of our guys. I’m really going to miss the seniors that we had on this team. This senior class is a very special one.”

College of Charleston fans will be excited for the return of an entire weekend rotation, a number of great relievers and underclassmen in the field who earned valuable experience this season. However, Sunday afternoon was bittersweet as six players completed their final game in a College of Charleston uniform.

In addition to five seniors, junior Gunnar Heidt will depart after three years at College of Charleston after being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 13th round of this year’s MLB Draft. Despite missing over a month with a broken hand, he still finished 2014 as CofC’s top hitter with a .329 average to go with 30 RBIs. Heidt ranks seventh all-time with his eight career triples.

Photo courtesy of C of C Athletics

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