Cougs 'insame boat': Charleston trying to earn automatic berth to NCAAs as SoCon tourney begins
The situation going into the Southern Conference baseball tournament today is a lot different than a year ago for the College of Charleston.
Last season, the Cougars had 41 wins going into the tournament and were all but assured of an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament. The Cougars have 36 wins and are the No. 5 seed after finishing 18-12 in the conference heading into today's 9 p.m. opening-round game against No. 4 seed Georgia Southern, which finished with a 32-23 record along with an 18-12 conference mark.
"We know we're not going to get the at-large, so this is pretty big for us," said junior left-hander Josh Renfro (9-2, 3.58 ERA), who has drawn the starting nod against the Eagles. "We know we need to win. We're a team that likes to step up. We don't accept failure. We kind of ended the season
not the way we wanted, and I think we have a lot to prove coming into this tournament."
Coach Monte Lee said the Cougars are in the same situation as most of the other teams in the eight-team double-elimination tournament that continues through Sunday.
"I think we have to win the tournament. Had we won the series at Samford, had we won the game on Sunday against UNC Greensboro ... It's always woulda, coulda, shoulda. We would have been at 38 wins, 39 wins. But it didn't happen. You can't look back," Lee said.
"We have to be able to look at areas we can improve upon and do a better job of playing and coaching and trying to prepare and move forward with this tournament. I think Elon is going to be a team that gets into the postseason based on their resume. I don't think there's another team in our league that's going to be able to get an at-large bid. ... For us to get in the postseason, we've got to win the tournament."
Lee said that's no easy task, that certain things have to fall in place. Teams need to have outstanding pitching. They have to be able to capitalize on scoring opportunities. And they have to be able to play defense.
Lee thinks the Cougars have plenty of offensive firepower, and he's high on his starting pitchers, Renfro, Christian Powell and David Peterson, along with relievers Jake Zokan and Casey Lucchese.
"It boils down to what we do from the seventh inning on," Lee said. "That's really where we've struggled. If we have a lead after six innings, we've got to find ways to keep that lead, to make routine plays behind our pitching staff so we can hold on to the lead and win the ballgame.
"I think it's going to be critical for us to find a way to score runs early and to continue to score runs for nine innings, to give our pitching staff a chance to win the ballgame."
The College of Charleston landed four players on the All-Southern Conference team selected by the media, while The Citadel had one player picked.
Cougars outfielder Daniel Aldrich was named the league's freshman of the year, repeating an honor he received a day earlier in voting by the coaches. Georgia Southern's Victor Roache was player of the year while Elon's John Brebbia was the pitcher of the year. Mike Gaski of UNC Greensboro was picked as coach of the year.
In addition to Aldrich, pitcher Josh Renfro, catcher Rob Kral and third baseman Matt Leeds were first-team picks while pitcher Christian Powell was a second-team pick. Outfielder Nick Orvin of The Citadel was a second-team pick.