Coastal Carolina is happy to be back in the NCAA Tournament after it suffered its first losing season since 1997 last year.
Perhaps no Chanticleer is happier than junior third baseman Zach Remillard, who needed Tommy John surgery over the summer – a procedure with a normal recovery time of 9-12 months that put his status this year in jeopardy.
After playing in all 120 games his first two seasons, Remillard was back for the start of this campaign and has helped Coastal Carolina get back to its customary spot in regionals.
The Chanticleers (39-20), in the NCAA Tournament for the 13th time in 15 years, are the No. 2 seed in the College Station Regional. They lost 9-3 to No. 3 California in the opener of the double-elimination, four-team regional tournament that includes host and top seed Texas A&M and No. 4 Texas Southern. Remillard went 1 for 3 with a run in the Chanticleers’ 4-1 win over Texas Southern.
“Last year was a learning experience, and it could have been a wake-up call, but that’s behind us and we used that as motivation for this season,” Remillard said. “Of course it was tough but now we’re back on track.”
Remillard’s frustration last season was compounded by soreness in his throwing arm, which required him to spend the end of his sophomore year as a designated hitter. He finally had surgery, but worked his way back ahead of schedule to play in 56 of CCU’s 57 games this year (the only one he missed was due to a death in the family). After considering a move to first base or second base because it would be easier on his arm, he has been able to spend the majority of his time back at third base.
“I think it’s more of a mental block in the beginning than a physical issue, because you haven’t thrown in so long you kind of convince yourself that you’re not ready, but once you get through that and get yourself back out there, everything comes back pretty quick,” Remillard said.
It also didn’t take long for CCU to get back to playing at its usual high standards. The team went a combined 7-3 against arguably the nation’s top two conferences, the SEC and the ACC, including wins against fellow tournament participants Clemson, N.C. State and Florida State, which should prepare it for the tough competition this weekend.
“I think that’s why our coaching staff made our schedule, to show we can beat anyone on any given day and prepare us for that,” Remillard said. “It’s an experience that’s good to have under your belt because you know what to expect and how you’re going to go about it.”
The team hopes not to repeat its last performance against California, a 17-0 loss early in the 2011 season. The Chanticleers have never faced Texas A&M or Texas Southern.
The next step for Remillard is to win an NCAA Tournament game. His freshman year the Chants went 0-2 in the Blacksburg Regional, losing to No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 1 Virginia Tech by a combined score of 16-4. Then came an injury-ravaged 24-33 season last year, which included a 2-9 finish that ensured CCU would miss the NCAAs for the first time since 2006.
“You never want to accept failure in any way,” Remillard said. “That feeling of not being able to compete in postseason baseball after you did it your freshman year is just something you never want to go back to.”
Fast recoveries by Remillard and his team ensured that the junior won’t be feeling that this weekend.
See the full NCAA Tournament bracket.