Cougars make NCAA field, will face Georgia Tech

Charleston’s Rob Harding (left), Daniel Aldrich (center), Marty Gantt and the rest of the Cougars will face Georgia Tech on Friday at 1 p.m.

MOUNT PLEASANT — Monte Lee didn’t plan an NCAA Baseball Tournament Selection Show party, it just sort of happened. Figuring the College of Charleston was on a slippery bubble for at-large invitations, the Cougars’ head coach told his players they could watch the ESPNU unveiling at the team’s Patriots Point headquarters or on their own.

Everyone showed up at the ballpark.

“We had an electric atmosphere in here, hoping we had a chance,” senior center fielder Marty Gantt said. “Then when we saw our name, it went crazy.”

The College of Charleston (37-20) is a No. 3 seed in the Gainesville Regional and will play No. 2 Georgia Tech (36-24) on Friday at 1 p.m.

No. 1 Florida (42-18), the top national seed and 2011 College World Series runner-up, will play No. 4 Bethune-Cookman (34-25).

The entire regional will be webcast on ESPN3.

“They’re one of the best programs in the whole country,” Lee said of Georgia Tech. “We know that we have a tall test in trying to compete with those guys. But we’re excited. We’re excited about the opportunity, whether it was in Florida or any other regional.”

It looks like a royal pitching matchup featuring a pair of junior right-handers projected as third-to-sixth round selections in next week’s major league draft.

Charleston’s Christian Powell (9-3, 2.39 earned run average) is the Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year; Georgia Tech’s Buck Farmer (8-3, 3.43) has 110 strikeouts in 992/3 innings.

Georgia Tech earned the final spot in the ACC tournament on the last day of the regular season and then as a No. 8 seed went 4-0 in Greensboro to claim the league title.

The Yellow Jackets are second in the powerhouse ACC in batting with a .296 team average (Virginia .298) but 10th in the conference in earned run average (4.33).

Jake Davies, a senior first baseman and middle reliever, is batting .332 with 13 home runs and 69 runs batted in.

Daniel Palka, a sophomore right fielder/first baseman from Greer, is batting .302 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs.

The Cougars rely on pitching and power.

A 3.21 ERA and 63 home runs led the SoCon. Gantt, the SoCon Player of the Year, is batting .375 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs. Brandon Murray has 12 homers and Daniel Aldrich 10.

Pitching staff depth includes Matt Pegler (9-2, 2.92 ERA), already named the Saturday starter in Gainesville, plus closer David Peterson, Josh Renfro, Ryan West, Kyle Owings, Dre Watts and Nick Osterman.

Georgia Tech swept the Cougars in a 2006 Super Regional, the only other meeting between the programs.

Lee, hired in 2009, also took Charleston to the NCAA tournament in 2010, when the Cougars pushed Coastal Carolina to the final game of the Myrtle Beach Regional.

Three Southern Conference teams are in the NCAA tournament field, tying a league record set in 2010 (The Citadel, Charleston and Elon).

Samford won the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament in Greenville and as a No. 3 seed will play No. 2 Mississippi State in Tallahassee. No. 3 Appalachian State will play No. 2 Oklahoma in Charlottesville.

“It’s a great league. I’m grateful that we play in such a good league,” Lee said. “When you have the seventh-rated RPI league in the country and you get three teams in from the Southern Conference, that’s pretty impressive. It’s great to be a part of that kind of league.”

Gene Sapakoff