Jun 6, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT
16 teams are still standing at this point in the 2014 NCAA baseball season. After the weekend, eight move on to the coveted College World Series in Omaha. Two facts that many probably already knew.
But for those CAA fans who’ve been living under a rock, the league has one team still alive in the College of Charleston, which is currently riding the momentum train into its Super Regional matchup with Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.
The Cougs have been hot as of late. Plain and simple.
“It’s been a great ride,” coach Monte Lee said. “It’s been something that as a head coach; you sit back and watch these kids and all the work they put in to try and develop individually and as a team.”
CofC entered the CAA Championship roughly two weeks ago as the No. 2 seed and hoped to make it as far as possible. Flash forward to now, and the team did just that and then some. The Cougars won the CAA title outright over William & Mary and then swept the daunting Gainesville, Fla., Regional. That entailed victories over the host and No. 2 national seed Gators, plus a dangerous Long Beach State squad twice to survive and advance.
“Just to see their journey over the course of this year, the consistency in which we’ve played over the year,” added Lee. … “And to get into the conference tournament, to get hot at the right time was just such critical in making a postseason run.”
Like many teams who make deep runs in the tourney, Charleston has relied on some stellar pitching. But the Cougars have done that unlike other squads, utilizing two true freshman hurlers — Tyler Thornton and Bailey Ober — and sophomore Taylor Clarke, who’s been solid as well. Keep in mind that all three starters are right-handed, while the shortest is Clarke (6’4″) followed by Thornton (6’5″) and then Ober, who sits at 6’8″.
“Starting pitching has been our strength all year long,” said Lee. “We didn’t now going into the season how we would see our starting pitching. The thing about this, guys, is that they’ve just been very consistent. One of the keys in winning, maybe the even the number one thing, is the quality of starts. How many quality starts can you get over the course of the year? Our guys have been able to give us quality starts. I think that’s been the biggest thing.”
Here’s a quick look at their numbers thus far this year:
Ober: 10-2 record; 1.55 ERA; 98.2 IP; 81 SO
Clarke: 10-3 record; 2.62 ERA; 96.0 IP; 89 SO
Thornton: 7-5 record; 3.03 ERA; 98.0 IP; 71 SO
Thornton came has come through in the go-to spot for CofC in the postseason, having earned the W in clutch wins over the Tribe and LBSU on Monday earlier this week. Ober, who was named 2014 CAA Baseball Tournament Outsanding Performer, and Clarke, who missed all of 2013 after Tommy John surgery, can hold their own as well. Both Clarke and Ober got the job done versus Florida and LBSU, respectively, as well.
“As far as the underdog role, I don’t know at this point in time that it plays that big of a role,” Lee said. “I think it’s just a matter of staying consistent, having a proper mindset going into Game 1.”
The Cougs’ defensive and bats for that matter can’t be overlooked, while sophomore Carl Wise and freshman Nick Pappas have proven they can hit any opposing pitcher during the six-game winning streak.
Tech went 26-30 one year ago, but rebounded impressively this season. The Red Raiders won their first ever regional last weekend at Miami (Fla.), a place no teams ever have much success at. TTU also sold out all of its tickets for the program’s first ever Super Regional in less than one hour, so expect CofC to have plenty of rowdy fans to deal with.
“It’s something we all talk about,” Lee said when asked about the Texas Tech home crowd. “We talk about playing at home in front of a good crowd, great environment. To be able to play what we are playing for, all those things we talk about. As far as right now, it’s a baseball game. The bases are the same, pitchers mound is the same.”
The team arrived in the Lone Star State on Thursday all sporting Hawaiian themed shirts, again trying to keep the fun and relaxed theme that’s worked so well thus far.
“They worked out great,” said Lee. “We all had to wear a Hawaiian shirt on the way out. Senior captain, he wanted to wear them and we usually wear the black “Block C” shirt to all look the same as a team. I even had to go out to JCPenny and buy one myself, so I’ve never owned a Hawaiian shirt. Again, it’s just a symbol of their commitment of doing things together. And they’ve got some personality about them. That’s a good thing for a ball club.”
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