College of Charleston no longer a surprise in NCAA tourney
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — College of Charleston second baseman Blake Butler felt the intensity when the Cougars got back together for workouts last fall: His team wanted to finish the job it began last season.
That task starts this weekend at the NCAA regional in Tallahassee, Florida.
The Cougars were one of the NCAA’s surprise teams a year ago when it became just the fourth No. 4 seed — the NCAA uses 16 four-team regional sites —since 1999 to advance out of the Gainesville regional into the best-of-three super regional series. College of Charleston fell at Texas Tech in a pair of 1-0 games to end their season.
Butler said since then the players have worked to take that next step into the College World Series. The second-seeded Cougars (43-13) open NCAA play on Friday against Auburn (35-24).
Top-seeded Florida State (41-19) takes on Mercer (35-21) in Friday’s other game.
Butler, the Colonial Athletic Conference’s player of the year, said the close calls at Texas Tech left the Cougars thinking they could go further this time around.
“That’s been the story of our season,” he said. “With the veterans that are here and played in that (Texas Tec h) series, we knew could be a top-20, top-16 team capable of getting to Omaha.”
The strength of the College of Charleston is its offense, which ranks eighth nationally with a .309 batting average and 12th in the country with 612 hits. Butler leads the way from the cleanup spot with a .338 average and 12 home runs.
Butler batted leadoff a year ago until coach Monte Lee thought his ability to put the ball in play would make him effective in the heart of the Cougars’ lineup.
“I moved back to the four-hole and didn’t really look back,” Butler said. “It’s been a blessing.”
Yet not the only change that’s worked for the Cougars this season.
Ace Bailey Ober, 10-3 with a 1.52 ERA as a freshman, was lost for the season after needing Tommy John surgery. This time, Lee reached into the outfield and tasked Brandon Glazer to take over on the mound. Glazer, a fifth-year senior who hadn’t pitched in college before now, went 10-1 with a 2.68 ERA to earn a spot on the all-CAA first team this year.
Lee said he wasn’t sure how good a coach he is “for not figuring out what Brandon could do before this.”
Glazer forms a dynamic combo with staff ace Taylor Clark, a right-hander who went 12-1 this season and was the CAA’s pitcher of the year.
Clarke said the team is ready to show that the run last year was not a fluke.
“We always have had high expectations,” he said. “When we had our first meeting, coach Lee put that mindset in all of us that Omaha’s the main goal. We’re good enough to make that next level.”
Lee is a protege of South Carolina national championship coach turned AD Ray Tanner. Lee was on the Gamecocks staff for CWS trips in 2003 and 2004 before taking over the Cougars after the 2008 season. He’s made four NCAA tournaments in his seven seasons, in part because of what he learned from Tanner about keeping his team loose in postseason play.
Lee said he will sit back as much as he can and let his experienced club take care of things. At some point in the next month, he said, the ride will be over and he wants his players to go as far as possible before it ends.
“It’s tough when you don’t get into the NCAAs. I know because I’ve been there,” he said. “When you get in you better try and enjoy it.”