Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid lay flat against a rocky outcropping, squinting into the distance as they watched an approaching posse grow larger and larger in its relentless pursuit of the affable outlaws.
“Who are those guys?” Butch and Sundance asked each other over and over, until they went home, picked up Katharine Ross and high-tailed it to Bolivia.
The LSU baseball team can’t grab a passport and flee to South America, which is probably a good idea considering the Zika virus. The Tigers have to stand and fight Coastal Carolina, which invades Alex Box Stadium for this weekend’s Baton Rouge super regional and the right to move on to the College World Series.
But the Tigers, like most folks in these parts, have to be asking themselves, “Who are these guys?” The Chanticleers? Which Carolina, in the name of Neil Diamond, do these guys even hail from?
Your friendly neighborhood sports columnist has a few answers for you on the subject of this weekend’s esteemed visitors:
Where is Coastal Carolina located?
The campus is in Conway, South Carolina, about 10 miles north of Myrtle Beach. That explains the “Coastal” part.
How good are the Chanticleers?
Coastal’s record is 47-16, compared to LSU’s mark of 45-19. The Chanticleers romped to a 21-3 mark in the Big South Conference, winning by a whopping seven games over High Point, Longwood and Gardner-Webb. Coastal’s RPI heading into super regional weekend according to WarrenNolan.com is No. 11, while LSU is No. 5. The Chanticleers’ RPI is the highest of any visiting team in the super regionals, followed by No. 12 Florida State (at Florida) and No. 14 TCU (at Texas A&M).
How good is their conference?
It’s not exactly surprising to learn that no other teams from the Big South received NCAA berths — Coastal Carolina also earned the automatic bid as Big South tournament champion. The Big South ranks No. 17 in conference RPI according to Warren Nolan, well behind the SEC (No. 2). By comparison, the Sun Belt Conference ranks No. 10 and the Southland Conference ranks No. 12.
How good was their schedule overall?
Despite the relative weakness of its conference, Coastal Carolina’s strength of schedule (SOS) ranks a respectable 29th. While it’s far below LSU’s SOS (sixth), it’s the 10th best of the 16 teams in the super regionals and second-best among road super regional teams behind only Florida State (fourth).
Even more impressive is the Chanticleers’ nonconference SOS, which is fourth. LSU, which played in a much-tougher conference, tempered its nonconference SOS a bit, by comparison, but was still a strong 19th. Coastal Carolina’s record against RPI top-50 teams was 9-9 (16-12 against the top 100) while LSU was 14-12 against the top 50 and 23-15 against the top 100. Both teams feasted on teams ranked 100 and below, Coastal going 31-4 and LSU going 22-4.
The Chanticleers have hit 91 home runs this season, compared to 45 for LSU. How legit is that number? What are the dimensions of Coastal Carolina’s home ballpark?
Springs Brooks Stadium (capacity 2,500) definitely has smaller dimensions than LSU’s Alex Box Stadium. At Coastal, the outfield dimensions are (from left field to right) 320-360-390-360-325. At The Box, the outfield measures 330-365-405-365-330 from home plate, a potentially significant difference in distance. At North Carolina State’s slightly larger ballpark in the Raleigh regional, the Chanticleers hit just one home run, by shortstop Michael Paez, in the final game, a fact that could be attributable to the level of competition as much as anything.
That said, Coastal’s power numbers are impressive. Four Chanticleers have 15 home runs or more: Zach Remillard (18), G.K. Young (16) and Connor Owings and Paez (15 each).
On balance, the team stats are comparable, which means an edge to LSU given the level of competition. The Tigers are hitting .295 and have a team earned run average of 3.86. The Chanticleers are hitting .301 with a team ERA of 3.45.
So after crunching the numbers, what’s the final verdict?
Who are these guys from Coastal Carolina? A team that can hit and pitch with the best of them, arguably the toughest visiting team in the super regionals behind TCU. Frankly, N.C. State, the No. 1 seed and host team in the Raleigh regional, probably would have been an easier team for LSU to beat.
That said, LSU’s home-field advantage and tradition — this will be the Tigers’ 12th super regional and third in the past four years, the Chants’ third overall and first since 2010 — will play a part.
We pick the super regional to go the distance, but for LSU to win in three games.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.