Monte Lee was hired as College of Charleston’s baseball coach on July 3, 2008.
Gainesville RegionalWHO: No. 3 College of Charleston (37-20) vs. No. 2 Georgia Tech (36-24)WHEN: 1 p.m. FridayWHERE: McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.TV: ESPN3.comTICKETS: www.gatorzone.com
By the Fourth of July, it’s safe to say, Lee had put in a call to a high school pitcher in Greenwood named Christian Powell.
“He was one of the main targets, if not the main target, in our first recruiting class,” Lee said this week. “We really recruited Christian hard, and he’s really been the key to all of it for us in the last three years.”
A regular season Southern Conference title this season, two NCAA tournament appearances in three years — it might have happened without the efforts of the 6-4, 219-pounder, but Lee’s glad he didn’t have to find out.
“He’s pitched on the weekend ever since he’s been here, and he’s really matured a lot mentally and physically,” said Lee, who will start Powell against Georgia Tech on Friday in the NCAA regional in Gainesville, Fla.
Lee was an assistant coach at South Carolina when Powell popped up on his recruiting radar, a big, strong right-hander from Greenwood High School who was drafted in the 47th round of the MLB draft by Cleveland in 2009.
When Powell made his recruiting visit to Charleston (and the beach), the deal was all but done. Lake Greenwood was never like this.
“I had never really been anywhere before,” Powell said with a grin. “So when I got here and saw the beaches and the atmosphere, I loved it.”
Lee immediately inserted Powell into the Cougars’ weekend rotation, and he’s been a steadily improving workhorse ever since: 7-4 with a 6.84 earned-run average as a freshman, 8-1 with a 3.09 ERA last year, and 9-3 with a league-best ERA of 2.39 this season, good enough to earn SoCon pitcher of the year honors.
For his career, that adds up to a 24-8 record and 251 innings pitched, ranking second and fifth in school history, respectively. And Powell has eaten more than innings during his career.
“He’s probably put on about 40 pounds since he’s been here,” Lee said.
All of it adds up to a pitcher who draws radar guns whenever he throws, a fastball reaching the low 90s. Baseball America ranks Powell No. 195 on its list of prospects for the draft next month.
Before that is the small matter of Friday’s regional opener against Georgia Tech (36-24), the ACC tournament champion and one of the hottest teams in the NCAA tournament.
Jackets coach Danny Hall pulled a surprise move Wednesday, announcing that he would hold back ace pitcher Buck Farmer (8-3, 3.43 ERA) and start freshman right- hander Cole Pitts (6-4, 4.36 ERA) against the Cougars.
It’s a gamble, as Hall is betting that Georgia Tech can get by the Cougars with Pitts, who was drafted in the 32nd round by Cleveland last year, and save Farmer for a potential matchup with No. 1 national seed Florida on Saturday.
Powell, meanwhile, wants to improve on his most recent performances. He has not pitched past the fifth inning in his last three starts. He allowed eight hits and five runs in five innings of an 8-6 loss to The Citadel in the SoCon tournament, but was undone by a defense that committed four errors.
“I hope I can turn it around here in the regional,” he said.
Lee is sure that he can.“He’s accustomed to having not just quality outings, but being pretty dominant over six, seven or eight innings,” he said. “We’re completely confident he can do that this weekend.”