Baseball Time in Conway: CCU ready to make a run

The time has come and Coastal Carolina baseball, like everyone else across the country this weekend, is ready to officially start the 2018 season. The Chanticleers will have three weeks to prepare before opening their season Feb. 16-19 by hosting Indiana, Oklahoma, South Alabama, Kansas State and Virginia Tech in the 18th annual Brittain Resorts Baseball at the Beach.

Coastal’s preseason All-American Kevin Woodall Jr., headlines a veteran group of returning starters. The senior first baseman was a first team All-Sun Belt pick last season after leading the league in both home runs and RBI. Also back are infielders Cory Wood (the 2017 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year moves from left field to second base), Matt Beaird (catcher) and Seth Lancaster (third base) along with outfielders Kieton Rivers (.291 in 31 starts last season) and Cameron Pearcey (makes the move to centerfield after missing all but 13 games in 2017 due to injury). The pitching rotation returns starters Zack Hopeck, Jason Bilous and Anthony Veneziano.

However, Coastal will be without its top two returning pitchers. Senior Bobby Holmes will sit out the 2018 season after having Tommy John surgery in June 2017. Also, junior relief pitcher Austin Kitchen, a left-hander who led the team in appearances last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury during a preseason workout.

“Obviously, we are all excited to get back on the field as an entire unit,” said head coach Gary Gilmore. “There has been a lot of positive things to this point. In particular, it’s been enjoyable to watch some of our key returners, specifically Woodall, Beaird, Rivers and Wood, embrace the role as leaders on this club. Also, even though Holmes is out, he is showing great leadership as well. There are a lot of new faces and how they progress will be instrumental in our success.

“Like every season, we still have to figure out where all the parts will fit to give ourselves the best chance to succeed,” Gilmore continued. “We are very excited about the talented group of young arms, who will get thrown in the fire immediately. That being said, these next three weeks will be very intense and extremely competitive in preparation for one of the best schedules in the country.”

Coastal Carolina, which ranks 17th on the D1Baseball.com list of top 100 programs, will face preseason top 25 teams North Carolina, Clemson, South Alabama, West Virginia and Louisiana. Among the 18 non-conference opponents:
• 14 are on the D1Baseball.com list of top 100 programs in the nation — North Carolina (12), Clemson (24), Indiana (31), Maryland (34), Oklahoma (35), Wake Forest (42), UNC Wilmington (48), UConn (57), College of Charleston (64), Illinois (66), West Virginia (73), VCU (76), Ohio State (87) and Kansas State (97).

• 9 were listed among the NCAA final RPI top 100 in 2017 — North Carolina (5), Wake Forest (10), Clemson (15), West Virginia (20), Oklahoma (29), Indiana (34), UConn (42), Maryland (44) and VCU (96).
• 8 played in a 2017 NCAA Regional — Clemson, Maryland, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Radford, Oklahoma, Indiana and North Carolina.

Within the Sun Belt, the Chants will face three of D1Baseball’s top 100 teams with weekend series at Louisiana (26), hosting South Alabama (50) and at Georgia Southern (92).

In addition to watching preseason All-American Woodall and Jason Bilous – rated the 57th-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com – on a regular basis, opposing teams will feature some of the top talent in the nation, including:

• Travis Swaggerty (South Alabama) rated the ninth-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Tim Cate (UConn) rated the 11th-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Steele Walker (Oklahoma) rated the 21st-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Griffin Roberts (Wake Forest) rated the 30th-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Seth Beer (Clemson) rated the 32nd-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Austin Bergner (North Carolina) rated the 35th-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Hogan Harris (Louisiana) rated the 50th-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Ryan Felter (Ohio State) rated the 71st-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Jake Irvin (Oklahoma) rated the 81st-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Johnny Aiello (Wake Forest) rated the 83rd-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Riley Gilliam (Clemson) rated the 87th-best pro prospect in the nation by D1Baseball.com.
• Preseason All-Americans Chris Williams (Clemson), Gianluca Dalatri (North Carolina), Josh Hiatt (North Carolina), Logan McRae (College of Charleston) and Alex Royalty (UNC Wilmington).

Photo courtesy of CCU Athletics

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