Monte Lee never got a chance to go to the NCAA tournament as a baseball player at the College of Charleston, so the second-year Cougars coach is extremely excited for his players, all of whom will be making their first NCAA tournament appearance this weekend in the Myrtle Beach.
A loud cheer broke a nervous silence in the Embassy Suites hotel in Charleston on Monday afternoon when ESPN announced the Cougars as the No. 2 seed in the Myrtle Beach Regional. Charleston (42-17) will face North Carolina State (38-22) Friday. Coastal Carolina (51-7), the No. 4 seed nationally and top seed in the regional, will face No. 4 Stony Brook (29-25).
"I've been to a few (regionals) as a coach, and it's a special thing. It's the reward of putting in all that hard work," said Lee, who spent six years as an assistant coach at South Carolina before taking over the College of Charleston program prior to the 2009 season.
This will be the fourth time the College of Charleston has played in a regional. The Cougars were in the Baton Rouge, La., Regional in 2004; the Clemson Regional in 2005; and won the 2006 Lexington, Ky., Regional before losing to Georgia Tech in the Atlanta Super Regional.
"It's been a long day just waiting and anticipating what was going to happen," Lee said. "I'm definitely relieved and excited that we know where we're going and that type of thing. We're just very grateful they selected us to play in the postseason.
"I think it has a lot to do with the amount of quality wins we had this year, 42 wins, and our RPI (ratings percentage index) sat at (25) at the end of the year. I think the tournament committee looked at our RPI and felt like we were worthy of a No. 2 seed."
Lee said the key to success will be starting pitching.
"Hopefully, with Kevin Decker and David Peterson, our 1-2 punch is pretty good," Lee said. "I feel like those guys can match up with anybody. When you play in the postseason, it's all about run prevention. So you've got to pitch and play defense because you're going to be facing some really good arms."
Decker, a senior, said if the Cougars play the baseball they're capable of playing, they should be fine in the postseason.
"We played hard all year and practiced hard in the fall. We worked the whole season for a chance to play in the postseason, and we finally got that chance," said Decker, a right-hander who posted a 7-0 record as a starter with a 3.79 ERA.
Peterson, a sophomore righty with an 8-3 record and a 5.03 ERA, said it was thrilling to see the College of Charleston's name flashed on the TV screen.
"We thought we would get in last year, but it didn't happen," Peterson said. "I think everyone felt pretty confident. We're the underdogs now. There is no pressure. We're just playing baseball."
Lee said he feels like Charleston has put its 1-2 performance in the Southern Conference Tournament behind and is now ready to focus on the rewards of a great season.
"The pressure is off now," Lee said. "We've worked as hard as we have to get to this point. Now, we can go out, play and have fun and see what happens.
"Obviously, we're excited about going up there. This is the time of year to go and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We know the work's not done. But this is a great thing for our program, our city, our school. We're excited about going up there and playing.
"We've played 59 games now, so the pressure should really be off them. I'm not going to feel any pressure. In my opinion, when you get to the postseason it's time to enjoy playing. All the hard work and pressure situations are over. Our guys are going to play hard and try to win. But I think the pressure's off now."