Sun Belt Tournament Preview – Bracket One – From the Bird’s Nest
The Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament begins Tuesday at M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field at Russo Park in Lafayette. The tournament begins with an elimination round on Tuesday and the participants are previewed here..
Today, we look at the upper half of the double elimination bracket, which begins on Wednesday.
#1 COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS (38-17, 23-7 Sun Belt) Coach: Gary Gilmore
STRENGTHS--This team can score runs and score them in bunches, averaging eight runs per game in conference. Coastal has an unforgiving lineup that can make it happen one through nine. Kevin Woodall, Jr. leads the league in homers, but Seth Lancaster might be the most dangerous clutch hitter in the league. There's balance in the lineup with seven players with 30+ RBI. They lead the league in homers with three players in double digits, but also lead the league in doubles. Jason Bilous has electric stuff and can be as dominating as anyone in the league. The pitching staff has really good depth and Gilmore has a half dozen guys in the bullpen he can trust, with closer Matt Eardensohn leading the way with six wins and six saves. Lancaster and Cory Wood have combined for 37 steals. Coastal doesn't use the short game a lot, but they are very capable. Matt Beaird is lethal when it comes to throwing out would be base stealers.
WEAKNESSES--Their starting pitchers can be a little iffy. Bilous has great stuff but can lose his control on any given day. Zach Hopeck, freshman Zach McCambley and Anthony Veneziano gives Gilmore four starters, but none of them are overpowering. While they have good power, the Chants strike out a lot. The left side of the infield has combined for 27 errors and that's contributed to 40 unearned runs on the season. Like any great offensive team, Coastal can sometimes struggle against elite pitchers, especially those who can master the breaking ball against them. Some of the Chants try to lift the ball, and that may not play well in Russo Park.
OUTLOOK--After bowing out early last year, expect the Chanticleers to come in with a focus. Gilmore has the luxury of having four good starting pitchers and the Chants are probably best equipped to not run out of pitching. It will be the job of the starters to log enough innings to keep the bullpen somewhat fresh. If they're successful, this is Coastal's tournament to lose.
#4 SOUTH ALABAMA JAGUARS (30-23, 18-11 Sun Belt) Coach: Mark Calvi
STRENGTHS: --Veteran lineup that has the capability of scoring a lot of runs on any given night. Dylan Hardy, Travis Swaggerty, Brendan Donovan, Wells Davis, et. al, are dangerous hitters in any count. This team draws a lot of walks and only the Texas teams strike out less than South Alabama. They are second in the league in home runs and slugging percentage. One thing that's been a mainstay for the Jaguars over the years is South Alabama plays outstanding defense. This year is no exception. Tyler Carr is very good as their #1 and Jared Proctor has emerged as a solid second guy.
WEAKNESSES--The pitching staff is a hot mess. Calvi has thrown a staggering twenty different arms this season, 17 in conference play. The normally reliable Zach Greene has three losses out of the pen and an ERA of almost 6.00 in conference play. They don't really have a good option as a third starter, something that's been an issue all year. Outside of Hardy and Swaggerty, they don't run much. While they have a lot of power, they are 10th in the league in doubles and last in triples.
OUTLOOK--The loss of shortstop Drew Labounty to a horrific injury prior to the season has really hurt this team. On the field it's forced South to use Swaggerty in the leadoff spot and off the field they lost a true leader. They've had some hot streaks, but they come to Lafayette after losing ten of their last sixteen games. The biggest issue lately has been a slumping offense. That needs to correct itself in a hurry, because that pitching staff can't be counted on to give a lot of help as the tournament unfolds.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES (29-24, 18-11) Coach: Rodney Hennon
STRENGTHS:--Start with Brian Eichhorn who is one of the best pitchers in the league. Eichhorn gives his team a chance to win on most nights and when he has his good stuff, he can be as dominating as anyone in the league. Seth Shuman's numbers aren't great, but he, too can be a tough customer when he's on. Cole Whitney and Chase Cohen are both good at the end of the game and both can pitch multiple innings. Christian Avant has come alive as a hitter and Jason Swan has been a clutch hitter down the stretch. Mason McWhorter is a dangerous hitter, ranking fifth in the league in slugging.
WEAKNESSES--Once again, Georgia Southern leads the league in strikeouts. They don't rank in the upper half of the league offensively in anything besides being hit by pitch. With exception of McWhorter, there isn't a lot of slug in this lineup. They've never settled on a third starter. Whitney and Cohen have to throw a lot, because there's not a lot of pen help. They only have six pitchers that have logged more than 20 innings. Although they've improved of late, Georgia Southern has made more errors than anyone except Arkansas State.
ANALYSIS--Honestly, when you look at some of the numbers, their offense reminds me a lot of Lousiana's. They don't have very good numbers in anything in comparison to the rest of the league, yet they are finding ways to score runs especially in the second half of the season. Their pitching numbers aren't stellar, but they have some guys who can get it done. If you only look at numbers ,there's nothing to suggest the Eagles will be around for long. But if you put your stock in numbers, you miss the fact Rodney Hennon is an outstanding coach at tournament time. He always seems to push the right buttons. Georgia Southern has played for the league title each of the last two years. I don't see anything that suggests they'll do it this year. But I didn't see anything the last two years, either.