HIGH POINT, N.C. (www.BigSouthSports.com) - No. 1 Coastal Carolina jumped out to a 3-0 lead and Ryan Connolly pitched 5.1 innings of scoreless relief to lift the Chanticleers to a 4-1 victory over No. 3 Liberty and win the 2012 Big South Baseball Championship presented by Brookwood Farms BBQ and Triangle Rent A Car at Williard Stadium on the campus of High Point University. The Chanticleers become the first team in Big South history to win six consecutive baseball tournament championships and receive the Big South's automatic berth to the NCAA Regional. The national bracket will be announced Monday, May 28 at 12:00 p.m. live on ESPNU.
Coastal Carolina got on the scoreboard first with three runs in the bottom of the first. Ted Blackman opened with a base hit up the middle and moved to second on Jacob May's bunt single. Daniel Bowman sacrificed the runners up a base, and Rich Witten was intentionally walked to load the bases. Designated hitter Alex Buccilli followed with a sharp single through the right side to give Coastal a 2-0 lead. After Tucker Frawley flied out, Justin Creel singled to center to score Buccilli for the early 3-0 advantage.
Liberty got one of the runs back in the third when Zack Haley doubled, advanced to third on Ian Parmley's bunt single and scored on Alex Smith's double play grounder to make it 3-1.
The Flames threatened in the sixth with runners on the corners with one out. Alex Close singled to the gap in left-center to start the inning, and moved to second on Bryan Aanderud's sacrifice bunt. Tyler Cox followed with a single to right-center, but Connolly struck out Trey Wimmer and Dalton Sype to get out of the jam.
Coastal added an insurance run in the seventh inning when Witten's sacrifice fly brought home Blackman to make it a 4-1 game.
Liberty threatened again in the ninth, putting runners on first and second with one out. Ben Smith replaced Connolly and got Parmley to fly out and struck out Smith swinging to end the game and give the Chanticleers their sixth consecutive Tournament championship and 10th in last 12 years.
It was the seventh Tournament meeting between the two teams -- the most in Conference history, as well as the fifth meeting between the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds in the championship game, the last coming in 2007. Coastal is now 6-1 against Liberty in the title game.
The Chanticleers also extend their Big South-record for most Big South baseball championships with 13. It was Coastal's 15th consecutive Tournament game win, extending its Conference record, and the 10th Big South title for Coastal head coach Gary Gilmore.
Connolly shared Tournament MVP honors with teammate Aaron Burke, as both hurlers went 2-0 in the tournament. Connolly did not allow an earned run in 11.1 innings pitched with nine strikeouts, while Burke had a 0.93 ERA in 9.2 innings of relief and struck out five. The All-Tournament team appears below.
P: Aaron Burke, Coastal Carolina (co-MVP)
P: Ryan Connolly, Coastal Carolina (co-MVP)
P: Patrick Eckelbarger, Liberty
P: Beau Hilton, Gardner-Webb
DH: Alex Buccilli, Coastal Carolina
OF: Daniel Bowman, Coastal Carolina
OF: Devin Bujnovsky, High Point
OF: Benji Jackson, Gardner-Webb
INF: Rich Witten, Coastal Carolina
INF: Alex Close, Liberty
INF: Ryan Retz, High Point
INF: Dusty Quattlebaum, Gardner-Webb
C: Trey Wimmer, Liberty
UTL: Spencer Angelis, High Point
Coastal Carolina Head Coach Gary Gilmore
"It seems like every game I am saying the same thing ... thank goodness for our subby guys (relief pitchers Ryan Connolly and Aaron Burke). What a great luxuary to have those guys in your pocket. Also, what a great honor that Connolly and Burke got the co-MVP honor. If you told me two months ago we would be where we are at now, I would have said you were crazy. This team has really come together and that is a great reflection of the leadership from seniors Daniel Bowman, Rich Witten and Tucker Frawley. You never take a championship for granted, especially because each one is so different and has a different group of guys. I look forward to see where we will continue our season."
Liberty Head Coach Jim Toman
"First of all, I would like to congratulate Coastal Carolina and their head coach Gary Gilmore. I am extremely proud of our guys and their efforts this season. I would especially like to single out our seniors and what they have done for Liberty baseball. Finally, I would like to thank the Lord for all the opportunities he gave us this year and look forward to what he has in store for the future of Liberty baseball."