Bucs closer to 'there'

Stuart Lake

The front porch decor is all about Charleston Southern baseball possibilities. Large banners greeting visitors at 1,500-seat CSU Ballpark offer proof that former Buccaneer pitchers R.J. Swindle and Bobby Parnell made it to the majors.

Inside the gates, the Bucs have steadily improved in three seasons under coach Stuart Lake, as ideally groomed for the job as any employed human.

Check the resume.

Lake is a 1994 Charleston Southern grad and former Bucs player.

He was an assistant at South Carolina (1999-'02), the College of Charleston (2003) and The Citadel (2007-'08), plus Mississippi (2004-'06).

The Bucs need every bit of that experience tonight as they complete their Big South Conference regular season schedule with the first of three games against perennial league powerhouse Coastal Carolina.

At 14-10 and in third place in the Big South, the program is not there yet -- "there" being in the clear for the second NCAA tournament bid in school history.

But for one of the rare times since that magical trip to the 1996 Clemson Regional, CSU (27-26 overall) is at least in the postseason conversation going into next week's Big South tournament in Lexington, Va.

"Coastal is so good," Lake said. "They're the team in our conference that you have to beat if you want to accomplish anything. And we try to emulate them a lot. Coach (Gary) Gilmore has done a fantastic job with that program over the last 10 years, and especially in the last few years."

Open ears

Charleston Southern went 6-20 in the Big South last year, 10-16 in Lake's first year as head coach.

He got construction tips from his apprenticeship trip around the state.

--South Carolina: "That was my first college coaching job and I was able to stay there four years with coach (Ray) Tanner. I wouldn't change anything about it. He is still as close to me as anyone in my life, except my wife. She picks on me, saying I some- times talk to him more than her."

--College of Charleston: "I got to work with Coach (John) Pawlowski, who just had a vision for that program. That vision has helped me so much with what I'm doing at Charleston Southern. When I was there, it had not become what it is now, but his work ethic was unbelievable."

--The Citadel: "Coach (Fred) Jordan taught me how important it is to really show up every day. Anybody who has been around Freddy Jordan will tell you that the intensity at practice is the same as at games. I will always be thankful for him teaching me that."

Oxford wasn't a waste of time, either. Mississippi won the 2006 SEC tournament title with Lake on staff.

Fun place

This year, Charleston Southern is second in the Big South in hitting behind Gardner-Webb, thanks mostly to Derek Smith (11 homers), Matt Still, Walt Quattlebaum and Jaren Sustar. Starting pitchers Stew Brase, Patrick Dolan and Jesse Cadenhead, and reliever Charlie McCready have been helpful, too.

But college baseball evolves rapidly.

Lake must capitalize on each bit of progress when the difference in a win over Liberty and a loss to Winthrop can make or break a season.

Everything matters, even the front porch. Building Buccaneer Baseball is an alumni-based booster group making facility improvements.

"We want to make our place where it's fun to watch a game," Lake said, "and where prospects come and say, 'Gee, I'd like to play here.' We're working hard at it every day."

At various points on his resume, Lake heard the same thing from Tanner, Pawlowski and Jordan.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.