LUBBOCK, Texas - College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee realized there was something special about this team during the Cougars' season opener against nationally-ranked North Carolina.
Trailing 4-1 midway through the game, Lee inserted freshman pitcher Bailey Ober and hoped for the best.
Ober threw five shutout innings and the Cougar rallied for a 7-4 victory, eventually taking two of three games from the 12th-ranked Tar Heels.
"I think that opening series really set the tone for us," Lee said. "We found a way to win and that's kind of what we did all season."
The Cougars would use that early momentum to march steadily through the rest of the regular season, winning 12 of 14 three-game series during the regular season.
The Cougars hit their stride in the postseason, sweeping their way through the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and the Gainesville Regional in six straight games. Charleston advanced to the school's second super regional, but saw its season end with a pair of losses against Texas Tech over the weekend.
All-in-all, it was a history-making season for the Cougars.
"We had high expectations coming into the season, but there's no question we overachieved," Lee said. "We got every ounce of ability and effort out of this team and I couldn't be prouder of a group of players."
Lee and Cougars pitching coach Matt Heath nurtured a young pitching staff that featured a sophomore and two freshmen in the weekend starting rotation.
"Matt Heath deserves a ton of credit for our success this season," Lee said. "The way he handled this young pitching staff was amazing to watch."
It's that young pitching staff that has Lee so optimistic about the Cougars' future. Eighteen of the 24 players that traveled to the super regional will be back next season, including nearly the entire pitching staff. It was a pitching staff that set a single-season record for ERA at 2.73.
Taylor Clarke (10-4) and Ober (10-3) were the first Cougars duo to win 10 games in the same season. Tyler Thornton (7-5) might have been the Cougars' best pitcher during the second half of the season. Clarke will be a junior next spring, while Ober and Thornton will be sophomores.
Nathan Helvey, Eric Bauer and Chase Henry, who were used out of the bullpen and as mid-week starters, also return. The only concern for Lee will be replacing closer Michael Hanzlik, who set a single-season record with 16 saves this year.
The Cougars' defense set a new program record with a fielding percentage of .973, as the Cougars turned 41 double plays and made 16 outfield assists. Charleston did not make an error in the regional or super regional.
"We pretty much know what we've got coming back on the mound and that's what is so exciting about next season," Lee said. Pitching and defense, that's where you start to build any team. This was probably the best defensive team I've had since I've been here."
Six of the nine position players that started in Game 2 against Texas Tech return for next spring.
Third baseman Carl Wise, who led the team with 54 RBIs, and freshman first baseman Nick Pappas, will be cornerstones in the Cougars lineup. Second baseman Blake Butler and center fielder Morgan Phillips look to build on solid sophomore campaigns.
Still, Lee realizes that pitching and defense aren't enough to get to the College World Series. The Cougars didn't score a run in two games against Texas Tech. They had just nine hits in the series.
"We've got some areas where we need to improve and I think there are a couple of guys that are coming in next year that are going to help us," Lee said. "We know we've got to get better if we want to get to Omaha. You're always looking to get better."
Charleston starting pitcher Bailey Ober throws to home plate during the first inning of an NCAA college baseball regional tournament game against Long Beach State in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, May 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)×
College of Charleston starting pitcher Tyler Thornton throws to home plate during the first inning of an NCAA college baseball regional tournament game against Long Beach State in Gainesville, Fla., Monday, June 2, 2014.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)×