Baseball Featured in Big South's "Best of the Best" Profile
Baseball Featured in Big South's "Best of the Best" Profile
BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE 25TH ANNIVERSARY “BEST OF THE BEST” PROFILE:
COASTAL CAROLINA BASEBALL
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As part of the Big South Conference’s 25th Anniversary celebration in 2008-09, which is presented by Royal Purple, the Conference is profiling each week the Top 25 “Best of the Best” moments in League history. This week’s feature is the Coastal Carolina baseball program’s monumental success since the 2001 season.
A video vignette around the Chanticleers’ diamond dominance, featuring a retrospective from head coach Gary Gilmore, can be viewed on the Big South’s website, , under the 25th Anniversary Media Center banner. In addition, video vignettes around all the Top 25 “Best of the Best” moments are available for viewing online.
Coastal Carolina baseball has always been among the top programs in the Big South Conference, and since the 2001 season, the Chanticleers have been nationally-ranked in four of the last eight seasons, have averaged 44 wins, and have reeled off six Big South Tournament championships and six NCAA Regional appearances. The program is 351-150 overall ( =.701 winning percentage), 130-43 in Big South play ( =.809) and has produced 28 Major League Draft picks during this timeframe. Head coach Gary Gilmore has built the program into a national power and a legitimate contender for the College World Series – a goal that fell short by just two wins in 2008.
In 2001, the Chants shook off a 13-10 start to the season to win 42 games, win their first Big South tournament title since 1992 and came within a single out of advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals, where they would have played Florida State with a College World Series berth on the line. The team that year posted wins over nationally-ranked foes East Carolina, Clemson and Georgia Tech, and staved off elimination in the Big South championship game against Winthrop on Adam Keim’s ninth-inning single that scored Randy McGarvey, Jr. for the 3-2 victory. The squad featured six All-Big South players, while McGarvey was the MVP of the Big South Tournament. Chris Carter led the team in hitting with a .417 average, while Scott Sturkie was brilliant on the mound with a 13-6 record, 3.32 earned run average and 133 strikeouts. He graduated that year as the Big South’s all-time leader with 400 career strikeouts.
In their second-ever NCAA Regional appearance (the first coming in 1991), Coastal Carolina was a No. 3 seed in the Georgia Regional. The Chanticleers stunned No. 2 seed Georgia Tech in the first game, defeating the Yellow Jackets, 5-3. Sturkie threw a complete-game seven-hitter, striking out eight, while Brandon Powell and Carter had two hits apiece. Coastal Carolina advanced to the championship game with a 12-3 win over No. 4 seed Georgia Southern, as Chad Felty went 4-5 with 4 RBI. The Chanticleers fell to No. 1 Georgia in the first championship game, 9-3, but were leading the Bulldogs 7-6 in the seventh after a solo home run from McGarvey. Georgia’s Jeff Keppinger broke Coastal Carolina’s hearts with a two-run home run in the ninth – his third of the day, to defeat the Chants, 8-7. Powell went 10-18 in the Regional.
In 2002, the Chanticleers posted 44 wins, second-most in school history and the most since 1983. The Chants also captured both the Big South regular-season and Tournament crowns for the second consecutive year and appeared in the NCAA Regional, falling to Georgia in the final game. The 2002 squad featured Big South Player of the Justin Owens as well as seven All-Conference performers – five of which were First-Team members. Owens batted .417 in 2002 with 11 home runs, 58 runs batted in and a .706 slugging percentage. Ryan McGraw stole a Big South single-season record 63 bases in 70 attempts to lead the nation. He also batted .382 with 43 runs batted in that season. In the Big South Tournament, the Chanticleers swept the event by out-scoring their opponents 33-9 in the four games, and Keim was the Tournament MVP. Coastal Carolina went to Georgia Tech for the NCAA Atlanta Regional. The Chants fell to the host Yellow Jackets, 6-0, but rebounded for a 9-1 win over Louisville. Coastal would bow out after a 9-7 loss to Georgia.
The 2003 season saw Gilmore earn his 500th career win on Feb. 21 against Delaware. He then led the Chanticleers to their third-straight Big South Tournament Championship and subsequent NCAA Regional appearance – the first baseball team in Big South history to accomplish this double three-peat. Coastal Carolina won 45 games in 2003, the most during Gilmore’s eight-year tenure as head coach, and defeated Pepperdine and Hawai’i during the season. Seven Chanticleers earned All-Conference honors. Powell finished as the team’s top hitter with a .364 average, while pitcher Steven Carter, who took home Big South Tournament MVP honors, was 11-3 on the hill and struck out 110 batters. Justin Surge also won 10 ballgames for the Chanticleers. Coastal Carolina received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Regional – its highest ever. The team fell to eventual College World Series participant Southwest Missouri State, 8-3 in the first game, and was eliminated the next day by Eastern Michigan, 9-8. Coastal was in an 8-1 hole after seven innings to the Eagles, but exploded for seven runs in the eighth before EMU came back.
Already the first Big South baseball team to win 40 games in three consecutive seasons, the Chanticleers made it four-straight years with a 40-23 mark in 2004. The squad battled through injuries and adversity during the 2004 season, and were underdogs heading into the Big South Tournament as a No. 3 seed. But the Chants extended their Conference Tournament championship record to four-straight by defeating Big South newcomer Birmingham-Southern, 7-5 in the “if necessary” title game. Steven Carter repeated as the Tournament MVP – the League’s first two-time winner, as he posted two wins including an 8.2 inning masterpiece in the championship game. Carter posted a 12-3 record with 116 strikeouts on the year in becoming the Big South’s all-time leader in victories (42), innings pitched (450.2) and games started (68). Big South Player of the Year Mike Costanzo was nearly unstoppable at the plate for Coastal in his sophomore season of 2004, as he batted .359 with 21 home runs and 74 runs batted in, in addition to a .740 slugging percentage and .479 on-base average. Costanzo also went 7-4 on the mound. The Chants earned the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Columbia Regional, falling to No. 2 seed North Carolina, 6-5 and bowing out with an 8-1 loss to No. 4 The Citadel.
Coastal Carolina welcomed 18 newcomers to the squad in 2005, but with 13 veterans back in the fold – including Costanzo, the Chanticleers were not only looking for their fifth consecutive League title and NCAA postseason appearance, but that elusive Super Regional berth. Coastal Carolina’s continual rise to a national power was never as evident as in 2005, where the Chants earned a No. 1 seed to the NCAA Tempe Regional, won 50 games – becoming the first Big South team in history to accomplish both feats, and had six players selected in the MLB Draft and finished No. 23 in the final national rankings. The Chanticleers collected wins over Clemson, College of Charleston, East Carolina, Georgia Tech and North Carolina during the regular-season. Gilmore received his third Big South Coach of the Year honor and was tabbed the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Atlantic Region Division I Coach of the Year.
While the Chants failed to win their fifth consecutive Tournament title in 2005, the club received an at-large berth to the NCAAs. Coastal Carolina would travel to Tempe, Ariz., and Arizona State University for the NCAA Regional. The Chanticleers defeated No. 4 seed UNLV, 12-8 in the opening game, before falling to the host Sun Devils, 11-3. Coastal would come back to defeat UNLV again, 14-10, and put up a great fight against ASU in the championship game before falling, 9-5. Costanzo was honored as a First-Team All-American by three organizations and became the first player in Big South history to be named Player of the Year twice. He was a second round draft choice of the Philadelphia Phillies after hitting .379 and leading the nation in walks. He also registered 14 saves and a 2.13 ERA.
The 2006 season can be classified as a rebuilding year, as the Chanticleers finished the season with a 30-27 overall record and third-place standing in the Big South. The Chanticleers were one of the hottest teams in the League in the latter half of the year, sweeping Conference foes Radford and UNC Asheville, as well as defeating East Carolina, College of Charleston and Wake Forest in mid-week games.
Coastal Carolina reclaimed its national success in 2007, as the Chanticleers hosted an NCAA Regional for the first time in school and Big South Conference history and won 50 games for the second time in three seasons. The Chants collected the Big South regular-season and Tournament titles, enjoyed a 16-game winning streak in the middle of the season, while their 13 losses were the fewest in Gilmore’s 12 seasons in Conway. Gilmore was named the Midseason Coach of the Year by Baseball America and earned his fourth Big South Coach of the Year honor. Individually, David Sappelt was the Big South Player of the Year while Bobby Gagg earned the Conference’s first Pitcher of the Year award.
The Chants hosted the 2007 Myrtle Beach Regional at BB&T Coastal Field that featured Clemson, St. John’s and VCU, as well as national exposure on ESPNU. Coastal Carolina opened with a 7-1 win over VCU, and its winner’s bracket game against No. 2 seed Clemson attracted a ballpark-record 6,231 fans. The Chants dropped a tough 11-8 decision to the Tigers, and because of a rainout the day before, had to turn around and play an elimination game against No. 3 seed St. John’s. Coastal pushed home the winning run in the eighth inning to take the 6-5 victory over the Red Storm, setting up a rematch with Clemson the next day. The Tigers jumped out in the first three innings and never looked back for a 15-3 win to end the Chanticleers’ season.
Anytime a team returns the Conference’s Pitcher and Player of the Year, the Conference Tournament MVP along with two players selected in the MLB Draft, the outlook of that team is bright. Add in that team was 50-13, hosted a Regional as a No. 1 seed and finished the season ranked as high as No. 20. This was the 2008 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. And the 2008 squad did not disappoint. The 2008 season was one for the record books for Coastal Carolina and the Big South Conference. Coastal won 50 games for the third time in four years, swept the Big South regular-season and Tournament crowns again, and was good enough to host an NCAA Regional for the second-straight season. This time, it was on campus – making it a true home-field advantage. Behind Big South Player of the Year and Johnny Bench Award Finalist Dock Doyle, the Chants started the NCAA Regional by defeating No. 4 Columbia, 10-2.
The magic began in the next game against No. 3 Alabama. Down 10-6 heading into the eighth inning, Coastal Carolina senior Tommy Baldridge’s three-run shot over the centerfield fence capped off a seven-run eighth inning that finished a furious rally and lifted top-seeded Coastal Carolina to a dramatic 13-10 win over the Crimson Tide in the winner’s bracket. With the win, the Chanticleers advanced to Sunday’s championship game against No. 2 seed East Carolina. A 13-run second inning propelled the Chants to a 24-11 win over the Pirates in front of a Watson Stadium/Vrooman Field-record 2,320 fans, garnering Coastal Carolina and the Big South its first NCAA Regional win and Super Regional berth. While the Chants fell to No. 2 national seed North Carolina in the Super Regional in two games, the Coastal Carolina program solidified its stature among the nation’s elite.
Coastal Carolina’s baseball success since 2001 is one of the Top 25 “Best of the Best” moments in League history. The Conference is conducting an online fan poll to help determine the Top Moment in the first 25 years of the Big South Conference. Voting is open on and continues through March 25. Fan voting will be combined with the 25th Anniversary Committee’s votes to come up with the official rank order of the “Best of the Best” moments. The countdown will be unveiled at the concluding 25th Anniversary banquet in May.