CONWAY — For the Coastal Carolina baseball team, one thing is certain in 2021 – uncertainty.
With the departure of several key players from last season and the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, it’s probably best for the Chants to focus on clearing one hurdle at a time.
“One moniker on this team, I would draw the biggest question mark I’ve ever seen and put it on this team,” head coach Gary Gilmore said. “Not because of lack of talent, because there are just so many unknowns.”
One of the biggest unknowns is who will be the Chants’ Friday night pitcher.
With graduate student pitcher Reece Maniscalco out until at least late March with an injury and redshirt freshman pitcher Will Smith, a Conway native, likely to miss a significant amount of time recovering from Tommy John surgery, a potential candidate for the Friday night gig is junior pitcher Nick Parker.
“As of now we’ve still got a lot of competition going forward in the spring, so we’ve got a lot of opportunities for everyone,” Parker said. “I think just as a whole staff in general, we’ll be ready to go between (pitching) Coach (Drew) Thomas and Coach Mike (Morrison) who’s been helping us a lot. I know that they can get us ready to go to war against anybody, so whatever your roles are, I know that we’ll embrace our roles as what they are. We’ll accept them and get ready to get after it.”
In CCU’s truncated 2020 season, Parker started in four games with a 2-0 record and a 2.25 ERA. He struck out 19 batters over 20 innings pitched and held opponents to a .239 batting average on the year.
Also looking to make a big impact this season is junior pitcher Alaska Abney, who made a team-high seven appearances out of the bullpen last season with a 2-0 record and 2.79 ERA last year. Abney struck out 22 batters over 19.1 innings.
“He (Abney) and Nick Parker both have to be our All-American candidate guys if this team is going to be good,” Gilmore said. “Nick’s got to be a good starter for us; give us innings, keep us competitive, and Alaska, he’s got to be a rockstar, lockdown, back-end-of-the-game guy.”
On the offensive side, the Chants are glad to have redshirt junior outfielder Parker Chavers back after he missed last season after having shoulder surgery.
“If anything, he’s worked harder than he’s ever worked,” Gilmore said of Chavers. “Fantastic teammate. He’s like another coach on the field. One of the best players I’ve ever coached.”
Chavers said he is healthy and ready to get back and play.
“Everything went really well; had a full recovery and have done better than I expected really,” Chavers said. “So fully healthy and just ready to get back playing again.”
Gilmore also expects junior rightfielder Nick Lucky and junior catcher BT Riopelle to have big seasons at the dish as well. Lucky hit .271 with 13 hits, three doubles, and seven RBIs last season, and Riopelle hit .282 with four home runs, a triple, two doubles, 11 RBIs, and eight runs scored.
The Chants are chomping at the bit to get back out on the diamond after their season ended early last year due to the pandemic.
The Chants went 11-5 over 16 games last season.
“Good part about it is, we’ve had a lot of practice time, a lot of time to clean up fundamentals and really be sound in that aspect,” Chavers said. “But … we haven’t played (in almost a year), so I know everyone’s itching to get back out there.”
Gilmore has not only had to help guide his team through COVID-19 protocols heading into the season, but he also had to deal with medical issues in the last year as well.
Early last year, Gilmore was first diagnosed with liver cancer, but after further testing, it was determined that he had pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. Despite that, Gilmore was still able to coach a handful of games as the Chants’ skipper last season.
“Being honest with you, it’s been way more of an emotional journey than anything,” Gilmore said. “That and spiritual. Those two things kind of go hand in hand for me in a lot of ways anyway. It was really hard being in Houston and watching our guys play … At the end of the day, I’m just living one minute at a time, one day at a time, and just sucking it all in and realizing that there’s not time in my life for a bad day.”
Parker is ecstatic to have Gilmore back in the dugout after all he’s been through in the last year.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Parker said. “I mean, he’s our leader. We follow him into the dark and he kind of just sets the tone for us. If he’s out here, coming out here every day with what he’s had to deal with and throughout the pandemic, then why can’t we?”
Coastal Carolina’s first series of the season will be at Springs Brooks Stadium for a three-game set against Duke from Feb. 19-21.