Coastal Carolina finally came up against a tournament deficit it couldn’t overcome.
The Chanticleers, who came back from three deficits of at least five runs in its five consecutive wins last week in the Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship at Springs Brooks Stadium, fell behind 9-2 to Auburn and couldn’t muster a comeback Friday.
Their 16-7 loss drops the Chants (35-25-1) into the loser’s bracket of the four-team, double-elimination NCAA Atlanta Regional. They will face the loser of Friday night’s game between host Georgia Tech (41-17), the No. 3 national seed, and Florida A&M (27-32) in an elimination game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Coastal did cut the seven-run deficit through six innings to four on a Zach Biermann three-run homer in the seventh, but the Tigers (34-25) added two runs in the seventh and five in the eighth to put the game out of reach.
Auburn’s 16 runs are its most in a regional since 2010, and matches the most Coastal has ever allowed in a regional – against College of Charleston in 2010.
The Chants are back to facing the end of their season, as they were for five straight games last week after losing their Sun Belt tournament opener to Texas-Arlington.
“We were in this position last week and it turned out pretty well for us,” CCU sophomore Jake Wright said. “I think we play really good when our backs are against the wall kind of. Today’s loss is not what we hoped for but we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
The Chants will have to win four consecutive games – one Saturday, two Sunday and one Monday – in order to win the regional and advance to the program’s fourth Super Regional and first since it won the national title in 2016.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” CCU coach Gary Gilmore said. “I wasn’t sure what they were going to do after we lost a game to Arlington last week. It would have been very easy to just pack it in and take up the uniforms and move on, but there was a fight in them. We’ll find out. . . . If they come to play, we’ll be very competitive against whoever we play.”
Auburn scratched out two runs in the first inning against Coastal junior starter Anthony Veneziano on an infield single, single through the second base hole, two-out balk and wild pitch that scored a run and advanced a runner to third, and RBI single through the shortstop hole.
The Chants pulled within a run in the third inning when Cory Wood hit a check-swing double down the left-field line, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
Parker Chavers tied the game at 2 leading off the fourth with his 14th home run of the season to right-center field.
The Chants stranded two runners in both the second and fourth innings with chances to take the lead, and Auburn took command with six combined runs in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings.
After a walk by Will Holland in the fourth and one-out single by Edouard Julien, Rankin Woley hit an RBI single through the shortstop hole with the runners going and Steven Williams followed with his seventh home run of the season, a three-run shot to right field out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
Veneziano was pulled after allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts and 71 pitches thrown in four innings. He battled a flu and high temperature late last week and into this week but said he was healthy for his start Friday.
“I was fine today. I was definitely 100 percent, I was ready to go, it was just not the outcome we wanted,” said Veneziano, who said he’d be available to pitch again this week. “Whenever the team needs me I’ll be ready to go, on Sunday maybe, and if we get to Monday I’ll be ready for Monday.”
The Tigers plated two off reliever Matt Eardensohn in the fifth on walks by Holland and Julien and RBI singles by Woley and Williams, and Conor Davis hit a solo home run off Dylan Gentry in the sixth to give Auburn a 9-2 lead.
Biermann cut the deficit to 9-5 with a his 18th homer of the year that followed walks by Kieton Rivers and Jake Wright. The line drive barely cleared the wall. Right fielder Williams appeared to get his glove on the ball but the glove fell over the wall.
Coastal chased Auburn left-handed starter Jack Owen, who entered the game 4-2 with a 2.29 earned-run average in 11 appearances this season, after just 3 2/3 innings, which matches his shortest outing in his last five appearances. He allowed two earned runs on six hits and a walk with four strikeouts while throwing 86 pitches.
Lefty reliever Elliott Anderson kept the Chants off the scoreboard while Auburn built its lead until Biermann’s homer in the seventh.
“At the end of the day it’s just very disappointing,” Gilmore said. “I thought we did a great job against Owen for three-plus innings. We had a great game plan, they carried it out to a tee. You know, we got his pitch count up, we got him out, but it didn’t reflect on the scoreboard. Anderson came in and did a great job for them.”
Auburn, which won a regional at N.C. State last year by outscoring Northeastern, Army and the host Wolfpack 40-12 in three games, got a two-run single by Ryan Bliss off Zach McCambley in the seventh and took advantage of a pair of errors to score five runs against Trevor Damron in the eighth.
Though Friday’s loss had more to do with Auburn’s offense than Coastal mistakes, the Chants allowed three unearned runs and committed a pair of balks that also contributed to a pair of runs, so they will likely have to play better baseball to advance through the regional.
“We actually talked about that before the game today. All the umpires in regionals are a little tighter in calling balks,” Veneziano said.
Gilmore was visibly irked by the balks. “When you go over it in two meetings then you still do it twice, I accept all the responsibility for it, that’s coaching. That’s right on me,” Gilmore said. “I accept it. Just punch me right in the face with it.”
Gilmore intimated he wouldn’t decide on a starting pitcher for Saturday’s game until he knew his opponent late Friday night, though Florida A&M is the likely foe.
“Moving forward we’ve got to get some guys to have outings like they did in the Sun Belt tournament,” Gilmore said. “When you go to the bullpen some guy comes out of there and throws three or four innings for you and puts zeros on the board and allows the offense to do something. . . . The leash will be real short and we’ll go from one guy to the next. If we find a guy who can get the job done we’ll stay with him.
“From here on out our offense is going to have to be offensive. That’s how we got here. . . . We got here because we hit and we’re going to have to do that the rest of the way out.”
In addition to altering his pitchers depending on Saturday’s opponent, Gilmore said he was inclined to start freshman catcher Bradley Riopelle to give junior Kyle Skeels a rest with three potential games Sunday and Monday looming.
Coastal’s game Saturday will be on the ESPN family of networks, possibly online on ESPN3 or ESPN+, though the broadcast isn’t expected to be determined until after Friday’s nightcap.