College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee joked that he needed a shot of caffeine after the Cougars eliminated top-seeded Elon on Thursday in the Southern Conference baseball tournament at Riley Park.
But the truth is that Lee and the Cougars were riding a wave of adrenaline after a 4-3 victory over the Phoenix kept Charleston's postseason dreams alive.
Charleston fell into the losers' bracket when Georgia Southern beat the Cougars, 4-2, in the wee hours of Thursday morning, a first-round game that was originally scheduled for a 9 p.m. start but didn't begin until 12:30 a.m. and finished at 3:01 a.m.
The late (or would you call it early) start for the Cougars occurred as a result of Western Carolina's 20-inning, 10-7 win over Elon.
Neither Lee nor Elon coach Matt Kennedy blamed the adversities faced on the first day of the tournament for what transpired Thursday afternoon.
Charleston (37-21) was opportunistic, both offensively and defensively. The Cougars pulled off five double plays (tying a school and Southern Conference tournament record), hit their first home run of the tournament and scored the winning run on an eighth-inning throwing error by the Phoenix (36-21) to advance to a 7 p.m. elimination game today against the loser of Thursday's late Western Carolina-Georgia Southern game.
"It was a great win for our guys. After getting home at 4 a.m., to be able to get up and be ready to play, it's a true testament to the spirit and drive of our guys, to come out and play their best baseball against the Southern Conference champions," Lee said. "We knew (Elon) would be ready to play. They, too, faced a pretty adverse situation, playing 20 innings yesterday. This was two teams fighting for their lives, trying to hang in there. It boiled down to who was going to make pitches when they needed to, who was going to make plays, who was going to come up with the big hit. We were able to come out on top."
Charleston jumped ahead with a first-inning score, but Elon bounced back, and thanks to a two-run fifth, held a 3-2 lead through six innings. But in the seventh, Marty Gantt jumped on a Dylan Clark fastball and powered it through the wind and over the left-field fence.
The Cougars got the winning run in the eighth. Cole Rakar singled to right field, then scored when Jamie Holler also singled and right-fielder Niko Fraser's attempt to catch Rakar trying for third instead was high and bounced into the stands. Elon managed to avoid any more damage, but reliever Kyle Owings retired the Phoenix in order in the ninth.
Kennedy, who hopes the Phoenix will get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, said offense has been Elon's nemesis all season.
"We didn't execute. We got the leadoff guy on in five of the first six innings and made baserunning mistakes," he said. "We rode our pitching pretty much all year. It was unfortunate it had to end this way."
Lee praised his pitchers, starter David Peterson, who went seven innings and gave up eight hits and three runs.
Owings pitched the final two innings and got the win, and he praised his team's defense, which has been problematic at times. The defense, he said, was in the right place at the right time.
"David Peterson battled for it and we made some big plays behind him ... We doubled up some guys on some line drives to end innings," Lee said. "Kyle Owings, who hasn't thrown a lot for us down the stretch, stepped up in a crucial situation and threw the ball really well.
"Toward the end of the ballgame, we were able to score a couple of runs to put us ahead. That's always good when you're playing a team the caliber of Elon. Generally, if they have the lead going into the seventh it's going to be tough to beat them."
Lee said the win was huge.
"It saved our season," he said. "It allows us to live another day, play another day against a really good club. I'm proud of our guys for their efforts today."