Charleston knocks off Coastal

College of Charleston pitcher Nathan Helvey threw five strong innings in the Cougars' 8-3 win over Coastal Carolina Tuesday night. Leroy Burnell/Staff

Arguably, the two best college baseball teams in South Carolina faced off against each other Tuesday night in Conway.

No, it wasn’t a South Carolina-Clemson game.

Taking into consideration the national polls and the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index, the top two teams in South Carolina right now are 18th-ranked Coastal Carolina and No. 22 College of Charleston. Neither South Carolina, which defeated the Cougars two out of three games to start the season, nor Clemson are ranked in Baseball America’s Top 25 poll.

The Cougars (25-8) pounded out 11 hits and won for the 11th time in their last 12 games, beating the Chanticleers (26-10), 8-3, Tuesday at Watson Stadium.

Three Cougar batters had multi-hit games as Morgan Phillips had two hits and drove in two runs, while Blake Butler added two doubles and Bradley Jones smacked a two-run homer for Charleston. It was the 15th win in the last 17 games for the Cougars.

More importantly it was a quality road victory, which should help the Cougars in the latest RPI rankings. The Cougars were No. 43 in the most recent RPI rankings, while the Chanticleers came in at No. 32 prior to the game. The victory over the Chanticleers can only help the Cougars’ resume at the end of the season when the NCAA selection committee gathers to pick the 64 teams that will battle for the eight spots in the College World Series in June.

“It’s absolutely critical to have a win like this on your resume at the end of the season,” said College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee. “It’s a win on the road against a high-quality opponent, and when the posteason rolls around the NCAA selection committee is going to take notice of a game like this. It’s a big win for our program against one of the best college baseball programs in the country.”

A win like Tuesday night can be the difference in earning a spot in an NCAA regional or staying home for the summer. The Cougars earned at-large bids in the NCAA regionals in 2010 and 2012 with similar victories.

“We want to win our conference tournament and get the automatic bid, but anything can happen over a three-day period in a tournament,” Lee said.

“A win over a club that’s in the 30s in the RPI is going to go along with the committee. It can absolutely be the difference in playing in the postseason or not going at all. Now, there’s still a ton of baseball left to be played, we have to continue to win and build our resume, but if you have enough quality wins like the one we got tonight, it makes the committee’s decision that much easier.”

The fact that the Cougars and Chanticleers are the two highest-ranked teams in South Carolina wasn’t lost on Lee.

“It makes me proud,” Lee said. “Coastal Carolina has a tremendous tradition. You look around their ball park and you can see all the NCAA regional appearances they’ve made. That’s where we are trying to get to as a program.

“It’s great that two mid-major programs are both nationally ranked this far into the season. This has always been a great rivalry. We’ve got a ton of respect for them and I think they feel the same way about us.”

It was a complete game for the Cougars, who will face Coastal Carolina on April 22 at home. Nathan Helvey pitched five solid innings to get the victory as Will Detwiler, Chase Henry and Carter Love gave up just five hits and a single run over the final four innings to secure the victory. The Cougars put up three runs in the second inning, which was highlighted by Jones’ two-run shot.

“Nathan Helvey pitched a great game, and Detwiler, Henry and Love came in and did a tremendous job for us tonight,” Lee said. “We got a big inning and then we were able to add a couple of runs later in the game, which turned out to be huge.”