Sun Belt Tournament Preview: Bracket One
The Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament hits full stride Wednesday with the top six seeds all in action. Here is a look at Bracket One featuring the #1, #4 and #5 seeds
#1 COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS (37-18-1, 22-7-1 Sun Belt) Coach: Gary Gilmore (22nd season)
STRENGTHS: A solid offensive ball club that has plenty of power and speed. OF Billy Cooke is the league's Player of the Year and with good reason. He has a rare combination of power and speed in the leadoff spot. Kevin Woodall, Jr. led the league in home runs, and it wasn't just because of the small home ball park. Cory Wood had a torrid second half of the season on the way to Freshman of the Year honors. Alex Cunningham and Andrew Beckwith give the Chants a great 1-2 punch on the mound and Zack Hopeck has turned into a reliable third starter. An aggressive club that will force the action once they get on base. The Chants are solid on defense.
WEAKNESSES: While Will Latcham has excelled in the closer role since coming back from injury, it still isn't a really deep bullpen. The Chants can be overly aggressive at times and they strike out more than they should. The left side of the infield has struggled at times and the bench is pretty thin offensively.
OUTLOOK: Last year's National Champions made a step up in competition and won the league in their first year. This is a battle tested bunch that will be ready for tournament play. But there are still some question marks with this team. Can they show some bullpen depth if necessary? And, it should be noted, the Chants did not win either series against the two teams on their side of the bracket. While winning the league title will sit well with the selection committee, Coastal needs to be playing on Sunday in order to feel comfortable as an at-large possibility.
#4 LOUISIANA RAGIN' CAJUNS (35-20-1, 19-10-1 Sun Belt) Coach: Tony Robichaux (23rd season).
STRENGTHS: A deep, stingy pitching staff that led the league in hits per nine innings, ERA and strikeouts. Gunner Leger lost only once in conference play while going up against everyone's ace. Wyatt Marks and Dylan Moore can dominate on the back end. Marks leads the country in fewest hits per nine innings and strikeouts per nine. Moore has double digit saves and is the league's all time saves leader. Hogan Harris can get it up to 95 mph with a sharp slider.. The Cajuns have five pitchers that have been weekend starters in their careers. Steven Sensley has become on of the league's most feared hitters. The Cajuns are excellent defensively, especially on the left side.
WEAKNESSES: They don't walk enough. They strike out too much. And, the offense has left a ton of runners on base, especially in scoring position. The batting order is navigable by opposing pitching staffs, especially after the top four. The loss of RHP Colton Lee (torn UCL), outstanding freshman Jack Burk (forearm) have hurt the team's pitching depth. The Cajuns have been known to run themselves out of innings, although that isn't as much of an issue in the last month or so.
OUTLOOK: The three time defending tournament champions aren't as good offensively as they've been the last few years. But that pitching staff is capable every single time they go out there...and that's what's given the Cajuns a solid record against the RPI Top 50. This will be a tough bracket to navigate. Like Coastal, they didn't win the series against either team on their side of the bracket. An at-large bid isn't out of the question, but the Cajuns need to win some games while they're in Statesboro.
#5 SEED: GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES (36-20, 18-12 Sun Belt) Coach: Rodney Hennon 18th season)
STRENGTHS: A solid pitching staff with good depth. Evan Challenger has righted the ship after a tough first half to take his spot as the ace. Chase Cohen has been solid and freshman Seth Shuman has emerged as the third starter. Connor Simmons and Landon Hughes are a great left/right combination out of the pen. Ryan Cleveland has scary power and you have to like their freshman, McWhorter and Curry. Georgia Southern is much improved defensively.
WEAKNESSES: As usual, they're a feast or famine team offensively. They strike out more than any other team in the tournament. They've only got three guys that scare you from a power standpoint. While the staff is deep, they've been inconsistent at times, including short relief. They're not a particularly athletic bunch when on the bases, except for Logan Baldwin. And, you have to wonder, was last weekend against Georgia State an anomaly or is this bunch slipping at the wrong time?
OUTLOOK: They did win both series against Coastal and Louisiana and they did it on the road in both instances. That's pretty impressive. This is a team that has the equipment to make a run, if they're clicking on all cylinders. Like Louisiana, they won't get scared about their pitching depth if they fall into the losers' bracket. The Challenger-Leger matchup on Wednesday could be something special. Can they use the home field to their advantage? That might be the key to having a chance to play on Sunday.