College of Charleston baseball team, boosted by wins over Gamecocks and Tigers, aims for NCAA tournament bid

College of Charleston baseball player Daniel Aldrich, former star at Wando High School.

There are a lot of things to like about Monte Lee, including dugout honesty.

“I look at the RPI all the time,” the College of Charleston’s head baseball coach said Tuesday. “I looked last night and I looked again this morning to see if it changed.”

No news, good news: Still hovering between No. 32 and No. 34 in Ratings Percentage Index charts, well within the margin of NCAA tournament at-large invitation status.

The Cougars, going into today’s makeup game at Charleston Southern, have eight regular season games remaining. If they play down the stretch the way they have played over most of the last month, an NCAA bid will be secure on the way to Greenville for the Southern Conference tournament.

This College of Charleston team is fully capable of reaching a Super Regional, as the 2006 Cougars did while outlasting host Kentucky and a Notre Dame team led by ace pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

Three reasons: Pitching depth.

Fire and ice balance. Big-game success.

Monday mattered. Down two games in a series at Clemson and still stinging from an extra-inning loss Saturday night, the Cougars held on for a 4-2 victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

It was Charleston’s first win against Clemson.

Ever. In 24 tries.

Charleston got a great start from Matt Pegler, three innings of scoreless relief from Kyle Owings, a home run from slugger Daniel Aldrich and a precious run on a sweetly executed double-steal.

The bus didn’t get back to Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant until early Tuesday morning. If not as satisfying as the return trip from Columbia after a 4-3 victory at two-time defending national champion South Carolina on April 17, it could have been worse.

“Obviously, the win against South Carolina was a lot of fun,” Lee said. “It was a huge win for our program and for our team this year. The ride home from Clemson was nice, but it also was a little tough to deal with because of the way we lost on Saturday; we were one strike away from possibly winning the series. But it’s comforting as a coach to know that our team can compete with the likes of South Carolina and Clemson.

“We know we’re not going to win all the time against those guys, or even half the time. But it does boost our confidence to know we have wins over Clemson and South Carolina.”

The Cougars have an ignition switch in leadoff hitter Marty Gantt, a senior center fielder nominated for college baseball’s prestigious Golden Spikes Award. Aldrich, a draft-eligible sophomore, got off to a slow start but has been on a tear as Charleston has gone 11-4 dating to a Sunday victory at Appalachian State on April 8.

Other stars of the boon since Boone are Christian Powell, Josh Renfro and Pegler; the starting rotation is the main reason the team earned run average has hovered around 3.00 and in the top 20 in the nation.

Bullpen depth includes redshirt senior Nick Osterman and is such that Lee let Owings save the Clemson victory even as closer David Peterson was warming up.

Mix that with steady middle infielders Bradley Goodson and Gunnar Heidt, versatile corner infielder Rob Harding, hard-nosed catcher Jimmy Holton, the power of Aldrich and Brandon Murray and beware.

“We can bring a lot of different aspects to the game.” Lee said.

The College of Charleston is 27-2 record in games the Cougars lead after four innings, and victims include South Carolina and Clemson. An odd, intriguing stat. But nice luggage for May and June bus rides.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.