Coastal Carolina's Rich Witten has never been so happy to get hit in the face.
On Saturday, Coastal's first baseman hit a big three-run, go-ahead home run to left field. Coincidentally, the blast zeroed in on the video portion of the scoreboard where his picture could be seen along with his stats. The homer smacked his digitized face with authority.
The Chanticleers' went on to claim its fourth consecutive Big South baseball tournament championship at The Winthrop Ballpark with an 8-2 win over Liberty. The victory was the latest in perhaps the finest baseball season in the Coastal's history.
At 51-7, the fifth-ranked Chanticleers blazed through Big South competition all year. The team was 25-0 against league opponents in the regular season and swept through four games in the tournament. Coastal Carolina has won 32 straight against Big South foes.
Coach Gary Gilmore isn't ready to call this his best team -- yet.
"I'll tell you in three weeks," he said. "To this point it is. This week you saw if we had two or three guys that weren't getting it done, someone else did. It has been that way all year. This team never panics."
Liberty took a 2-0 lead in the third inning when Kenneth Negron doubled to the left field wall and Trey Wimmer followed with a two-run home run off Coastal Carolina starter Matt Rein.
The Chants responded with four runs in the bottom of the inning. Daniel Bowman doubled and Chance Gilmore reached on a bunt single to set the stage for Witten's homer.
Witten talked after the game about why this team has been so consistent.
"We've done a really good job of not worrying about who is in the other dugout," he said. "This team is a lot of fun. We all do anything we can to help the team win."
An inning later Bowman hit a two-run shot deep to left. It was the first of two home runs on the day for Coastal's right fielder. In the sixth he poked another two-run homer to right-center field. He was 3-for-3 with four RBIs.
Bowman hit a grand slam in Friday's win over High Point. He had nine RBIs in the four games and was named tournament MVP.
Gilmore was pleased to see the resurgence of Bowman.
"To a large degree he has been non-existent the last six weeks," Gilmore said. "He had gone four or five weeks without a home run. We have thought of him as a guy with the potential to hit 25 homers. It's unbelievable to see him break out this week. He's been the missing piece for us."
Bowman said something told him to "make a little adjustment". The change paid huge dividends.
His first home run Saturday was a bomb. But then again, he hit a long home run in the 2009 tournament held at Asheville's (N.C.) McCormick Field, too.
The Chanticleers have won a record 11 Big South tournament titles and is expected to host a regional when the NCAA baseball tournament begins next week.
"Having the home field will be huge," Witten said.
Liberty (42-19) will head back to Lynchburg, Va., hoping for an at-large berth into the NCAAs. The Flames beat High Point, 9-5, earlier in the day to advance to the championship game.
Casey Brown hit a three-run triple and finished with four RBIs in the win.
COASTAL CAROLINA 8
Dustin Umberger, Cameron Giannini (3), Carter Browning (4), J.J. McLeod (7) and Nathan Thompson. Matt Rein, Ryan Connolly (5), Matt Laney (6), Austin Fleet (6) and Jose Iglesias. W -- Fleet (6-1). L -- Umberger (2-5). 2B -- Matt Williams (L), Kenneth Negron (L), Daniel Bowman (CC), Rich Witten (CC). HR --Trey Wimmer (L), Bowman 2 (CC), Witten (CC).
Leading hitters: Liberty -- Negron 2-4, Wimmer 2-4. Coastal Carolina -- Bowman 3-3, Witten 2-3.