We spoke with Josh Hoke, sportswriter for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, this week to get his perspective on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Hoke covers Coastal Carolina sports for the newspaper. You can read Hoke's blog, The Roost, here.
How would you describe Coastal Carolina to someone who has never seen them play?
One of the most dynamic teams in the country. We've done some research and they're the first team since 2001 with 150 steals and 100 home runs. The two guys at the top of the lineup, Scott Woodward and Rico Noel, are two of the best in the country on the basepaths. There's a lot of power and not many holes in the lineup right now. Solid starting pitching with depth in the bullpen. They're the epitome of a team. They've played together for a while now and bought into the team concept and gelled at the right time. It's a perfect storm of guys coming together.
Who are the players that Gamecock fans need to know?
Pitchers - Anthony Meo, he's a sophomore. He will be a late first or second round pick next year when he's draft-eligible. He's got a 94-95 mile per hour fastball and throws a good slider as well. Cody Wheeler is a lefty and expected to go in the first five rounds of the draft. Those two will be key. They are glad the regional starts Saturday because they both pitched twice [Wheeler threw 172 pitches and Meo threw 120 over the weekend). It will be interesting to see how those guys come back.
[Editor's Note: Wheeler was drafted in the fifth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Here's what the scouting report on MLB.com had to say about Wheeler - "He's not just a finesse southpaw; he has the fastball that's above-average and two secondary pitches that will be at least average offerings for him as a pro. He has decent command and looks like the type of college pitcher who could be big league ready fairly quickly."
Rico Noel and Scott Woodward both run at will. Jose Iglesias is a finalist for the Johnny Bench award - he's a big power bat that can hit for average. Tommy La Stella leads the team in average. Those four at the top are really deadly. But there's not many holes. For the last three weeks, it's been someone at the bottom of the lineup kick starting things.
How do you think Coastal matches up with South Carolina?
They are very similar. I'm interested to see how Coastal handles SEC pitching. Dyson and Cooper will be two of the best guys they've seen all year. They've seen some good guys this year. They did well against [Daniel] Bibona from UC-Irvine earlier in the year.
[Editor's Note: Bibona was named the 2010 Big West Pitcher of the Year after leading UC Irvine on the mound with a 9-2 record and a league-leading 2.10 ERA. He was named a first-team Louisville Slugger All-American as well. His line against CCU: 5.1 IP, 6 earned runs, and 2 strikeouts.]
It will be good to see how they handle upper echelon pitching. I think Coastal might be a little bit faster and more athletic. They have higher power numbers, but some of those numbers are due to the park they play in. I think it's just two very similar teams.
After winning the regional in such emotional fashion, how do you think that will affect the team?
I'm sure the team is thankful to start play on Saturday. They're going to take the day off and try to regroup. To lose Saturday night and have to win your last three games, two of them against a very very good team - that takes a lot out of you. But this team isn't going to settle. They've talked about Omaha all year and the expectation has been Omaha. They won't be happy just getting to the Supers. But South Carolina did have to play two fewer games and they got done a day earlier. so that might give [the Gamecocks] the upper hand.
What kind of advantage does playing at home give Coastal?
I think the park itself makes a negligible difference for the two teams. Coastal has played ten games there and sets up well for them, but it also sets up well for South Carolina. I think the main advantage is just that they're at home and that they won't be overrun with South Carolina fans.
Do you think the opponent in the Super Regional brings any extra emphasis for the team and/or fans?
No doubt. I think this could be the biggest moment in Coastal Carolina University history outside of making the playoffs for the first time in football. There's been no other moment where they've been on a national stage like this. They were in a Super Regional a few years ago against UNC, but that was on the road and no one expected them to do anything. It means a lot. You can't overstate how much this weekend means to this community. People are torn. There's people who have a South Carolina degree but they affiliate with Coastal. A lot of people don't know who to cheer for this weekend.