No current Coastal Carolina player had ever played in an opening-round win in an NCAA Baseball Tournament.
And no player from St. Mary’s had ever played in the tournament at all, so something had to give.
Connor Owings’ two-run, two-out single completed his nine-pitch at-bat, giving the Chanticleers the lead for good in a 5-2 win on Friday at a hot Dail Park at Doak Field.
It was the first meeting between the schools in any sport.
Coastal (45-15) will play in the winner’s bracket on Saturday night at 7 p.m., after St. Mary’s (33-24) plays in a 2 p.m. elimination contest.
The No. 2 seed and Big South champion Chanticleers are playing in the tournament for the 15th time and the 14th in the last 16 years while the No. 3 seed Gaels, champions of the West Coast Conference, are making their first appearance in an NCAA baseball tournament.
Coastal starter Andrew Beckwith (11-1) went 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs – one earned – on six hits while striking out three with two walks before Bobby Holmes took the hill the rest of the way and earned his third save.
Gaels starter Corbin Burnes (9-2) lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs – four earned – while striking out eight against two walks before giving way to lefty Bryce Reichmann.
Billy Cooke led Coastal with three hits including a double and a stolen base, while Michael Paez added a double and a single.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Coastal coach Gary Gilmore said. “I thought Burnes was outstanding and actually mixed up his game plan a lot. He commanded his change-up and breaking ball to make it real tough on us.”
Anthony Gonsolin led the Gaels with a homer and a single, while Nate Nolan chipped in two hits with an RBI.
“Coastal is a very good team offensively and well-coached,” Gaels coach Eric Valenzuela said. “They have six left-handers in the lineup and a lot of power and athleticism. Give the credit to those guys. They just beat us.”
St. Mary’s struck with two out in the first, as Gonsolin launched Beckwith’s 1-0 offering high over the left-field wall for his seventh homer of the season. The pair had played together for the Madison Mallards in the summer collegiate Northwoods League two seasons ago.
“I was working to get leadoff outs keep the walks down and pound the zone,” Beckwith said. “As a sidearm pitcher I have to let my defense work. They did a great job today and the offense picked us up.”
With two out in the second, Coastal center fielder Cooke robbed Ian McLoughlin of an extra-base hit with a diving catch in right center.
Burnes got into trouble with a hit batsman and two walks in the third, and Owings made him pay with the big hit.
“Burnes has tremendous stuff with unbelievable life on his fastball, and he was throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes,” Owings said. “I was just trying to battle, and he left that pitch over the plate. It was a big at-bat for us in that part of the game.”
Coastal made it 3-1 in the fourth, as G.K. Young led off with a single to right and scored on Seth Lancaster’s one-out sacrifice bunt.
And the Chants stretched the lead to 5-1 in the fifth, as two runners scored from third on wild pitches.
“It was just one game,” Burnes said. “We have a long way to go. We’re going to go out and compete tomorrow, and like coach said we’ll have plenty of depth on the mound and be ready to play baseball.”
St. Mary’s added a run in the sixth as Joey Fiske reached on a one-out error and scored on Nolan’s two-out single over first.
NOTES: Junior Alex Cunningham (8-3, 3.87) will take the mound for the Chants in Saturday’s contest. … Junior southpaw Johnny York (7-5, 3.13) will pitch for St. Mary’s in Saturday’s game.