By: Fletcher Keel | WCTV Eyewitness Sports
May 29, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The baseball post season begins this weekend and for the first time since 2015, the Florida A&M Rattlers are part of the field of 64.
The Rattlers are the #4 seed in the Atlanta Regional, hosted by Georgia Tech, and could face either Coastal Carolina or Auburn in their second game of the Regional, after opening the weekend against the #3 national seed in Georgia Tech.
To help get a better understanding of the competition heading to Atlanta, I reached out to Christopher Parks, sports director at our sister station, WBTW in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to better learn about the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
WCTV: The Chanticleers shocked the college baseball world by winning it all in 2016 but missed the tournament the next year. However, they’ve rebounded and are back in the NCAA’s for the second straight year. What went wrong in 2017 and what has gone right in each of the last two years to get them back to postseason play?
Chris Parks: In 2017, the team carried over a lot of that momentum from 2016 in Sun Belt play winning 22 games, but Texas State just had their number that year, winning three of four head-to-head matchups in the regular season and the Sun Belt championship over them.
The last two seasons, CCU has been blessed with so much offensive firepower at the plate; they averaged eight runs a game in 2018 and blew through the Sun Belt competition. This year, it's been more of the same. They set Sun Belt tournament records for runs scored, home runs and runs in a game with 26 in their win over ULM. Guys like Zach Biermann, Kieton Rivers, and Kyle Skeels have led the charge in 2019.
WCTV: The ‘Cleers are in their third year in the Sun Belt – how has that transition been for them on the diamond in a league that, historically, has had pretty good success.
CP: It's all about recruiting and the experience they have on that coaching staff. Gary Gilmore, the head coach, is a CCU alum, has been there over 20 years and has over 800 wins. Their ballpark is only three-years-old and is one of the best in all of college baseball. Top notch facilities and mild winters certainly help. They have a lot of guys from the north that have a desire to play. This is now their 17th time in the NCAA regionals.
WCTV: To this year’s team – CCU owns the best average in the Sun Belt and boast eight players who are hitting over .300. What makes this team so successful on offense?
CP: The CCU hitters have great plate discipline and will work deep into counts and get the pitcher's pitch count high. Once they get on base, they are aggressive on the basepaths and take advantage of any little mistake the opposition makes. Once one guy hits, it's a chain reaction and they feed off of that on the field, in the dugout, and with the home crowds at Springs Brooks Stadium.
WCTV: CCU has some strong wins on their resume – it doesn’t seem like facing an SEC team in an ACC park will phase them. What is it CCU does that makes them successful against both P5 and mid-major opposition?
CP: They are all about scheduling the best possible teams year in and year out. Especially in 2019, they went on a road trip and played Washington, Oregon State and San Diego, all in Seattle. Not to mention Clemson twice, NC State, North Carolina, Illinois etc. They aren't intimidated by anyone and feel they have some of the best talent nationwide. CCU will continue to schedule that way, it really helps come Sun Belt time where the competition may not be as strong.
WCTV: In D1Baseball’s preview for the regional, they see it as an offensive juggernaut. Despite their poor ERA (over 5.00 as a team), which arms could step up and play a huge roll in slowing down some of the bats on GT, Auburn and FAMU?
CP: That's the key, can the pitching hold down these offenses. It's been a bit of issue the last couple seasons and was supposed to be a strength this year, but it hasn't. CCU has managed to outslug their opponents, but you can only do that for so long. Lefty Anthony Veneziano will need to be their ace in this tournament: He throws the ball in the mid 90's and has been their most consistent pitcher the last two seasons. Matt Eardensohn is a quality arm out of the bullpen. Zach McCambley has an electric fastball and slider when he's on, but struggled in the Sun Belt tournament. Scott Kobos was a pleasant surprise for CCU in the Sun Belt Tournament. If he stays healthy, he'll provide help as a starter or reliever.
WCTV: Do you have a prediction for how the Regional will go down? Who do you see playing at the end of the weekend and who do you think will advance to the Supers?
CP: CCU has good momentum right now with their offense, especially with the hot weather predicted in Atlanta. I feel as if they aren't the favorites and can play an underdog role and surprise people in Atlanta. GT and Auburn won't be easy. I think it comes down to GT and CCU in the finals, but I think the Yellow Jackets are a little better than Coastal.
I'd like to again thank Chris for helping us out with getting a better feel for what FAMU could be up against in their second game in Atlanta. For more of Chris' coverage, click here.