To the casual observer, College of Charleston’s 11-7 victory over UNC Wilmington on Sunday afternoon at Patriots Point appeared to be just another win in a season full of victories.
A closer examination shows otherwise. Not only did the Cougars (38-10, 19-2 Colonial Athletic Association) sweep the Seahawks (33-15, 15-6) during the three-game series, but in the process captured the CAA regular season title and all but assured themselves of an NCAA regional bid no matter what happens in two weeks at the league tournament.
Of course, thas was hard to tell by the Cougars’ muted celebration following the victory. It was the first regular season league title for the Cougars since capturing the Southern Conference crown in 2012.
“Obviously, it’s a huge accomplishment winning the regular season, but it’s just the first step in the process,” said Cougars second baseman Blake Butler, who had three hits, including two home runs on Sunday. “This was definitely one of our goals, but we’ve got a lot of veteran guys here who played in the regional and super regional last year. This was a goal for us, but we’ve got bigger goals in front of us that we’re chasing.”
Like his players, Cougars coach Monte Lee was mostly subdued following Sunday’s victory.
“I’m just very proud of our guys,” Lee said. “We’ve been such a consistent team all season. We don’t get too high and we don’t get too low. We just compete. We just find ways to win ball games. Our guys play the game the right way. They have fun. They don’t put too much pressure on themselves. It’s a huge accomplishment to win the regular season, but it’s also just a step in the process. There are bigger goals still ahead of us.”
UNC Wilmington came into the weekend series trailing the Cougars by a single game in the CAA standings. Charleston’s three-game sweep not only established the Cougars as the team to beat in the CAA Tournament in two weeks, but might have propelled them into the conversation as an NCAA regional host. The Cougars came into Sunday’s game at No. 15 in the latest RPI rankings.
“I think we’ve got to be in the discussion,” Lee said. “We’re sitting at No. 15 in the RPI before the game and another win against a high-quality opponent. I gotta believe that we’re in the discussion now to host a regional, but there are still four games left in the season.”
The Cougars finish up the regular season with a three-game series in Boston against Northeastern next weekend.
After beating the Seahawks, 13-4 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday, UNC Wilmington was out for revenge on Sunday, scoring five runs in the first two innings to take a 5-3 lead.
But freshman Carter Love entered the game and threw 51/3 innings, giving up four hits, one run and striking out two.
“It seems like we have a different guy step up every game,” Lee sad. “Carter came in, settled everyone down and pitched five really strong innings. He gave us the time we needed to get our bats going.”
And when the Cougars’ bats got going, they were difficult to stop. Charleston pounded out 13 hits, including three doubles and three home runs. Four Cougars had multi-hit games. Butler hit a two-run shot in the third and had an inside-the-park homer in the sixth.
“We got down early and eventually our bats came alive,” Lee said. “It’s been like that all season. We just seem to find ways to win.