Chants earn Sun Belt accolades

Chants earn Sun Belt accolades

Story courtesy of Coastal Carolina Athletics

CONWAY – Billy Cooke, who led the league in three offensive categories, was voted Sun Belt Player of the Year and Cory Wood, who had the league's best batting average in conference games, was selected Sun Belt Freshman on the Year, it was announced today by the Conference. Cooke, Alex Cunningham and Kevin Woodall Jr., were named first team All-Sun Belt, while Wood, Andrew Beckwith and Jordan Gore earned second team honors.

The conference honors were voted on by the league's head coaches and coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.

Although this is Coastal Carolina's first year in the Sun Belt Conference, Cooke becomes the 13th Chanticleer since 1986 to earn a conference's Player of the Year award, while Wood is the fifth Chant to be named a league's Freshman of the Year.

Cooke was a key cog in leading Coastal Carolina to the top seed at this week's Sun Belt Championship. He led the league in batting (.36), on base percentage (.484) and runs scored (52) and was the only player in the league to rank among its top eight in batting, on base percentage, runs scored, slugging percentage (3rd; .599), stolen bases (3rd; 21), total bases (4th;p 117), hits  (6th; 71), doubles (6th; 15), walks (7th; 37) and home runs (8th; 10). He additionally ranked third in hit by pitch (16), second in sacrifice flies (6) and fourth in sacrifice bunts (10). In addition to his offensive prowess, Cooke made numerous highlight reel plays in centerfield throughout the season. What makes Cooke's numbers even more impressive is that he is Coastal's leadoff hitter, a spot that does not lend itself to the power numbers he has posted. In fact, when he is the leadoff hitter for an inning, Cooke reaches base 53.7 percent of the time (44 of 82 opportunities) and, of his 44 times reaching base to start and inning, he has scored 27 times (61.3 percent).

Wood, the only freshman on the first or second teams, got off to a slow start in his inaugural campaign, batting as low as .193 through his first 18 games of the season. However, when league play began, Wood found his stride and ended up batting a conference-best .406 in Sun Belt games, 19 points better than number two on the list (Dylan Hardy at .387). He additionally posted a league-best .531 on base percentage. Wood missed nine games late in the season due to a hand injury, but showed no signs of rust when he returned as he batted .444 over CCU's final six games of the regular season. He finished ninth in the league with a .427 on base percentage and he reached base safely (hit or a walk) in 41 of his 45 games played. Wood also contributed to 10 CCU wins as he scored the game winner six times and drove in the game winner four times, including a walk-off single in game two of the Louisiana series.

Cunningham, a three-time Sun Belt pitcher of the Week and three-time National Player/Pitcher of the Week, earned his first team honor after leading the Sun Belt with 115 strikeouts (as well as having a league-best 84 K's in conference games), but the senior ranked 10th nationally in strikeouts while ranking 19th in WHIP (0.91) and 33rd in the NCAA in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (.6.26). Cunningham ranked sixth in the league in ERA (2.68), with that improving to 2.40 (third-best) in league games. Also, he ranked fourth in the opponent batting average (.192), with that improving to .170 in league games (third-best). Of his league-best 75.0 innings pitched in conference games, Cunningham worked 3-up, 3-down innings 38 times. The Duncan native won his first two Sun Belt Pitcher of the Week honors as he threw back-to-back, complete-game shutouts versus Arkansas State and Georgia State. Then, this past week, he earned his third as he struck out 14 over 8.1 scoreless innings, allowing two hits, in a win over Appalachian State. The 14 strikeouts not only tied the CCU single-game record, but it tied his own career-best effort as he fanned 14 versus San Francisco in early March.

Woodall was named first team All-Sun Belt after leading the league in home runs (18) and RBI (60). On the national scene, Woodall ranked eighth in home runs and 24th in RBI. While he only batted .261, he posted a .368 on base percentage, thanks to 30 walks, and he reached base safely (hit/walk/hit by pitch) in 51 of CCU's 56 games. He was second in the league in total bases (122) and seventh in the league in slugging (.560). Woodall earned Sun Belt Player of the Week once and was CCU's nominee an additional two times, including the final week of the regular season when he batted .400 with four runs scored and five RBI.

Beckwith was voted second team All-Sun Belt despite posting an 8-0 record in league play – which was tops in the conference – and having a 2.73 ERA in Sun Belt action to rank sixth. For the season, he was 8-1 with a 4.00 ERA. However, his season ERA was inflated after two tough outings early in the year, allowing 15 earned runs in 7.1 innings. However, over his last 16 appearances, Beckwith was 8-0 with a save and a 2.69 ERA over 80.1 innings pitched.

Gore earned second team All-Sun Belt after finishing the season as perhaps Coastal's hottest hitters. The junior, who graduated cum laude (sociology) from Coastal this spring, had a team-best 14-game streak and, including that streak, had a hit in 24 of his last 26 games and batted .348 over the span. Overall in league games, Gore had a .344 batting average to rank ninth. Despite having "Tommy John" surgery last May, Gore played every inning of the 2017 season and showed a rocket arm while making numerous highlight reel plays at shortstop. Gore ranked 11th in the league – and was third on the team – with 67 hits while he and Woodall ranked fourth and third, respectively, in double plays turned.