Going into the 2010 season, College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee said his Cougars were very much an unknown quantity.
But after watching his team pile up a 41-15 overall record and finish second in the Southern Conference regular season with a 22-8 mark, Lee is feeling more assured as the Cougars enter the Southern Conference Tournament on Wednesday at Riley Park.
The Cougars' RPI (ratings percentage index) is a lofty No. 26, and with more than 40 wins it is thought they have earned a spot in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens this week. Charleston last participated in the NCAA tournament in 2006, when the Cougars won the Lexington, Ky., regional and then were eliminated by Georgia Tech in the super regionals.
"I just told our guys and I've been talking about it all week. There are two seasons in baseball. You've got the regular season and you've got the postseason," Lee said after the Cougars closed out UNC Wilmington, 10-8, Saturday.
"Our regular season was really good. If you'd asked me at the beginning of the year, 'Would you sign for 41 wins?' Absolutely. There's no doubt about it. I don't know any coach that wouldn't. Especially when you look at the fact we've got seven guys starting for us that didn't play last year. It's been a great year for our guys."
The Cougars enjoyed an outstanding run in the final weeks, going 11-1 against SoCon opponents and winning all four of their three-game league series. The only loss during that stretch was to The Citadel, which won the regular season title, but lost its series with the College of Charleston. Since April 16, the Cougars' overall record is 17-4.
But Lee said it's now time for the Cougars to refocus and understand a new and more important season is beginning.
"Hopefully, we'll go into this week playing good baseball at Joe Riley (Park)," Lee said. "Who knows what will happen? But you've got to take care of Game 1 when you're playing in the tournament. It's so important. Hopefully, we'll come out and be ready to go.
"The great thing about the last week for us is how we've had to battle and how well we had to play to get to 40 wins. When you look at the fact we had to go to App State and we swept them up there. Then we went on the road and played Coastal Carolina, a top-five team in the country and we win there ... We've had some tough ballgames against some good, quality opponents at the end of the year. Hopefully, our guys have been in every situation they will be put in going into the postseason."
Lee faces a unique challenge with the Cougars opening the tournament at 9 a.m. Wednesday against Appalachian State, a team they swept last weekend in Boone, N.C. He said while college students aren't noted for being early risers, the 9 a.m. start should not pose a problem.
"I don't think I'm going to make my guys get up and take batting practice at 7 o'clock in the morning and then go over there and play," he said. "I think the big thing at that time of morning is just having all the energy you can have going into that ballgame."
And while most people think the College of Charleston will garner an NCAA tournament invitation, he's taking nothing for granted.
"I think the big thing is, you want to be playing your best baseball this time of year," he said. "I think it's important this week. We want to win tournament. I want my guys to be consistent and play well and that gives us even more momentum going into a regional. The important thing is we keep playing and that we keep playing well. I think it's important for our guys to have the intensity and enthusiasm they need to get through a week-long tournament which is awfully difficult to do."
Reach Tommy Braswell at firstname.lastname@example.org.