College of Charleston season ends with 3-0 loss to Georgia Tech in NCAA regional
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Marty Gantt stood helplessly in center field, staring up into a high blue sky with his arms extended in the universal baseball sign for “Help!”
The fly ball with two on and two out in the sixth inning fell to the grass some 30 feet to the right of the College of Charleston standout, giving Georgia Tech the only run it would need in a 3-0 victory Sunday in the NCAA regionals at Florida’s McKethan Stadium.
Yellow Jackets catcher Connor Lynch — under orders to bunt, then to hit and run, then to hit to right field — hooked a two-strike pitch to left field for a two-run home run in the ninth, slapping a disappointing end on an otherwise successful Cougars’ season.
Cougars coach Monte Lee’s team (38-22) won a share of the Southern Conference regular-season title and earned its fifth NCAA bid, its second in three years. But the Cougars went 1-4 in the postseason, going 0-2 in the SoCon tournament and 1-2 in the regional, their only win over Bethune-Cookman.
“We did some things this year that we haven’t done in a while,” Lee said, recalling wins over Columbia regionalists Clemson, South Carolina and Coastal Carolina. “But the postseason was frustrating. We didn’t throw the ball well or play well defensively at the SoCon tournament.
“But this weekend, I felt like we did pitch and play well, at least for two games. It’s frustrating for me, only because I would have liked for our seniors to play a little bit deeper. Any time you get in the NCAA field of 64 at College of Charleston, you have to feel like it was a successful season.”
Pitcher Josh Renfro, one of six Cougar seniors, said there were “no regrets.”
“It was tough, but we left it all on the line,” he said. “We battled hard, put together a couple of good performances, and came up short.”
Renfro gave No. 3 seed Charleston every chance to beat No. 2 Georgia Tech (38-26), which lost 15-3 to No. 1 Florida in the regional final later Sunday. He allowed only one run — on that ill-fated fly ball — and six hits over 71/3 innings against a team that belted two three-run homers against Charleston on Friday.
“Same plan as always,” said Renfro (6-8). “Locate, work ahead and made quality pitches. Against a good-hitting team like that, you have to stay within yourself.”
But against Tech bullpen ace Alex Cruz, making his first college start, and reliever Zane Evans, the Cougars managed only three hits. They had 12 runs and 24 hits in the first two regional games, an 8-4 loss to Georgia Tech and 8-2 win over Bethune-Cookman.
“He did what he’s done all year,” Lee said of Cruz, who is 8-3 and entered the game with a 2.00 ERA. “We knew he’d throw strikes and make you hit the ball on the ground, and they made all the plays behind him.”
The Cougars made plays, too, snuffing out a fourth-inning rally with a 6-4-3 double play. But with two on and two out in the sixth, Gantt could not find a fly ball by Evans and left fielder Brandon Murray could not reach it in left-center, the ball dropping for an RBI double.
Charleston got runners to first and second with one out in the sixth, but Rob Harding bounced into a 4-6-3 double play. Evans allowed just one hit over the final three innings for his seventh save.
Lynch hit his first homer in the ninth to make it 3-0.
After getting spiked in the left hand Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, Gantt struck out three times. In Sunday’s game, he collided with Murray in the first inning and cramped up in his lower leg. He ended up going 0 for 3 after getting four hits (including a double and a home run) and scoring four times in the first two games.
“I don’t know if he wasn’t himself (because of the injuries),” Lee said. “He wasn’t himself today because he didn’t get any hits. He just had a tough day, and everybody else did, too.”
The Cougars lose seniors Gantt and Harding in the field, and Renfro, David Peterson, Kyle Owings and Nick Osterman from the pitching staff. Pitcher Christian Powell is a likely draft choice, and pitcher/outfielder Dre Watts and outfielder Daniel Aldrich are possible draft picks, Lee said.