Regional Preview: Coastal

Coastal Carolina (41-17) is fresh off their sixth straight Big South Championship and will be looking to pull off a mild upset of the Clemson Tigers in the first game of the 2012 Columbia Regional. The Chants and Tigers are no strangers to each other, meeting in a Regional for the third year. Clemson has won the previous three meetings and a 40-8 advantage overall.

To say that there's any love lost between the fan bases at Coastal and South Carolina is a vast understatement. When the Chanticleers won the Myrtle Beach Regional in 2010 it already knew that they would be hosting Carolina in the Super Regional. Coastal did everything in its powers to limit the amount of tickets South Carolina fans could get its hands on from selling tickets as fans left the stadium following the Regional victory to allowing only walk-up ticket sales at they Myrtle Beach Pelican box office the following day. On-line ticket orders were not allowed until 5:00 that afternoon, but the tickets were sold out long before then. It was a business decision that Coastal had to make to avoid being well outnumbered by Carolina fans and it worked, but it was a decision that to this day makes Gamecock fans angry.

As if the tension was not already high enough by the time the Super Regional began, both games were highly-contested and came down to the final inning. Matt Price had his first memorable performance to preserve a game one victory and Christian Walker's three-run bomb in the bottom of the eighth won game two for the Gamecocks as they advanced to Omaha and won their first National Championship.

Two years later Coastal and South Carolina will share the same stadium for the first time since that Super Regional meeting, but the two teams are not guaranteed to match up with each other. The Chanticleers return two starting position players from the 2010 season, Daniel Bowman and Rich Witten, and both have played pivotal roles in the success Coastal has had this season. The duo bats third and fourth in the line-up and leads the Chants in batting, Bowman batting .401 and Witten batting .350. The two lead the offense in homeruns with a combined 11 and have batted in 100 runs. Alex Buccilli has had success batting behind Bowman and Witten, batting .320 and is second on the team behind Witten with 38 RBI and has belted three homeruns.

One advantage Carolina would have if they face Coastal on Saturday is likely not having to see Tyler Herb. The right-handed Sophomore is in his first season as a starter and has been impressive. He spent most of his freshman season coming out of the bullpen after just one start in the second game of the season. This season Herb has compiled an 8-2 record and a 2.87 ERA in 16 starts and has struck out 65 batters in 87.2 innings pitched.

Assuming Herb gets the starting nod in Friday's opener against Clemson, the Gamecocks could face Austin Wallace. The left-handed Junior is in his first season with Coastal and brings a 5-0 record and 2.05 ERA into the NCAA Tournament. Wallace has 43 strikeouts in 57 innings and has issued just 15 walks. He has appeared in 14 games and has started 10.

Just as in the 2010 season, Coastal has plenty of arms to turn to in the bullpen. Aaron Burke is Coastal's number one reliever – appearing in 34 games this season, tied for most appearances on the team. He has a 10-5 record with a 1.18 in 76.1 innings pitched. The Junior right-handed pitcher is also second on the team with seven saves.

Austin Kerr has enjoyed a solid season in a somewhat set-up man role, appearing in 26 games. The freshman southpaw from Chester has only thrown 17.1 innings, but is 1-0 with a 1.04 ERA and two saves. If Coastal head coach Gary Gilmore needs someone to pick up an inning or two over the weekend, look for Kerr to make an appearance.

While Coastal may not have a Matt Price it can give the ball to at the end of the game, the Chants feel very comfortable with its closer on the mound. Ryan Connolly has been a go-to pitcher with the game on the line. Connolly has appeared in 34 games and pitched 72.2 innings. He has a 2.11 ERA and has a team-high 11 saves. He has struck out 52 batters while walking just 18, but has been somewhat susceptible to the long ball for a closer, giving up three homeruns, third-most on the team.

There is no doubt that Clemson has one of the most difficult first game opponent for a second seed, and Coastal will be bringing a huge chip on their shoulder to the Regional. Add in the fact that the Chants already know it can beat the Tigers – a 10-7 winner in a mid-week game earlier in the year - not to mention a pro-Gamecock crowd, and the Tigers could be in trouble.

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