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Coastal Carolina has great opportunity

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Perhaps this is the year when Coastal Carolina will join the nation's elite.

Coastal head coach Gary Gilmore has done a fabulous job of turning his program into a consistent winner the past few seasons. But when faced with opportunities to get to Omaha in the past, the Chanticleers have failed miserably.

Now, the Chants have a chance to reach the College World Series against the opponent they'd love most to do it against – South Carolina.

Coastal Carolina's pitching staff must rise to the occasion this weekend, while South Carolina's pitching staff hopes to cool off a red-hot Chanticleers lineup.

Coastal Carolina took care of College of Charleston in dramatic fashion in the Myrtle Beach Regional title game last weekend. South Carolina, meanwhile, had no issues with its regional field.

With another trip to Omaha on the line, something will have to give. Either the Chants finally will punch a ticket to Omaha or the questions about their status as a program will continue to be raised.

Myrtle Beach Super Regional: Who has the edge?
Pitching

The Gamecocks have had one of the nation's better offensive lineups the past few seasons but always lacked something on the mound.

This season has been the complete opposite. Though the Gamecocks have a decent offensive lineup, the pitching staff is the stronger unit.

The Gamecocks enter the series against Coastal with a 3.53 ERA and have starting pitchers Blake Cooper, Sam Dyson and Jay Brown as the headliners.

Cooper has had a banner veteran campaign and is 11-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 111 1/3 innings. He has struck out 100 and walked 32, and opponents are hitting just .226 against him. Dyson got off to a slow start this season but has been solid down the stretch. He has a 4.00 ERA in 87 2/3 innings. He has struck out 93 and walked 19, and teams are hitting just .243 against him. Brown, meanwhile, has a 4.44 ERA in 50 2/3 innings, and teams are hitting him at a 2.46 clip.

The Gamecocks also have some solid relievers to watch. Michael Roth, Jose Mata, Matt Price, John Taylor and Steven Neff have done admirable jobs this season.

Roth has appeared in 31 games and has a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings. Mata has appeared in 29 games and has a 2.01 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. Taylor has appeared in 23 games and has a 3.75 ERA in 24 innings, and Neff has appeared in 15 games and has a 4.30 ERA in just 14 2/3 innings.

While the Gamecocks put together some impressive performances in the Columbia Regional, Coastal Carolina left much to be desired. Even ace pitcher Anthony Meo had a poor start in regional action.

Meo leads the way with a 2.63 ERA in 95 2/3 innings. He has struck out 94 and walked 34, and teams are hitting .227 against him. Left-hander Cody Wheeler also has had a strong campaign and has a 3.59 ERA in 107 2/3 innings. He has struck out 111 and walked 39 and teams are hitting just .247 against him.

In the bullpen, keep an eye on Ryan Connolly, Austin Fleet and Matt Rein.

Connolly has appeared in 38 games and has a fantastic 2.08 ERA in 47 2/3 innings, Fleet has appeared in 29 games and has a 2.53 ERA in 57 innings, and Rein has appeared in 23 games and has a 2.70 ERA in 56 2/3 innings.

Hitting

South Carolina certainly isn't below average offensively, but it doesn't have the type of offense that had become the norm the past few seasons.

Coastal Carolina definitely has an edge at the plate.

The Chanticleers enter the series hitting .326 as a team, as compared to just .302 for the Gamecocks.

Tommy La Stella, Rico Noel, Jose Iglesias, Taylor Motter and Chance Gilmore lead the Chants at the plate.

La Stella is hitting a team-best .375 with 14 doubles, two triples, 14 homers and 63 RBIs, Noel is hitting .348 with 18 doubles, two triples, 11 homers and 62 RBIs. Motter is hitting .343 with 22 doubles, 11 homers and 48 RBIs, and Gilmore is hitting .341 with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 54 RBIs.

Also keep an eye on third baseman Scott Woodward, who is hitting .330 with five homers and 35 RBIs. Woodward also is 54-of-61 in stolen bases, while Rico Noel is 56-for-69 in stolen bases.

For the Gamecocks, keep a close eye on Jackie Bradley Jr., Whit Merrifield, Adam Matthews and Christian Walker.

Bradley is hitting .367 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs. Merrifield is hitting .332 with 11 doubles, 12 homes and 38 RBIs. Matthews is hitting .320 with seven homers and 29 RBIs, and Walker is hitting .310 with 12 doubles, six homers and 41 RBIs.

Also keep an eye on Scott Wingo, who is hitting only .270 but has nine homers and 29 RBIs for the season.

Coastal Carolina has a huge advantage at the plate. But it will be interesting to see how the Chants do against South Carolina's solid pitching staff.

Fielding

The Gamecocks and Chanticleers are very close in the defensive category, but we give the 'Cocks the edge for several reasons.

In the infield, South Carolina first baseman Christian Walker has a .973 fielding percentage. Second baseman Scott Wingo has a .971 fielding percentage. Shortstop Bobby Haney has a .972 fielding percentage, and third baseman Adrian Morales has a .934 fielding percentage. Also worth noting, catcher Kyle Enders enters the series with a .990 fielding percentage.

South Carolina's outfield puts it over the top with fantastic athlete Jackie Bradley and Whit Merrifield leading the charge.

By comparison, Coastal Carolina's infield shakes out like this: First baseman Rich Witten has a .992 fielding percentage. Second baseman Tommy La Stella has a .976 fielding percentage. Shortstop Taylor Motter has a .954 fielding percentage, and third baseman Scott Woodward has a .912 fielding percentage.

The Chants have the edge on the right side of the infield. But on the left side, the advantage clearly is in South Carolina's favor.

Still, defense doesn't appear to be the ultimate factor in this series. Both teams do a decent job of fielding the baseball for the most part.

Intangibles

From an institutional standpoint, there isn't much love lost between Coastal Carolina and South Carolina. The disdain stems from the fact that Coastal formerly was a university in the South Carolina system. For that reason, the administration at South Carolina isn't real keen on the Chanticleers.

That fact combined with the idea that Coastal still is chasing South Carolina and Clemson on the national stage in the Palmetto State presents a very stressful and pressure-packed situation for the Chanticleers.

Will that affect them this weekend?

In addition to South Carolina having much less pressure on them this weekend, there won't exactly be a huge home-field advantage, as it appears South Carolina fans have gobbled up enough tickets to make a lot of noise this weekend.

Coastal Carolina has a golden opportunity to make a huge statement on the national stage this weekend. South Carolina, meanwhile, is the more seasoned and prepared team entering the series.

South Carolina has the edge from an intangibles standpoint. Coastal still hasn't proved it is ready to take the next step.

Perhaps that ends this weekend, though.

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