Former HHS standout reaches College World Series with Chanticleers

Cody Dalton
Sports Editor

Through its ups and downs, Tyler Poole’s senior season of baseball at Coastal Carolina University has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.

The former Hickory High School standout’s journey with the Chanticleers continues this Sunday in Omaha when the school makes its first-ever appearance in the NCAA College World Series.

“It’s been surreal,” Poole said of his senior year. “Honestly, it still hasn’t hit me yet that we’re going to Omaha. It’s been a fun year.”

Poole began the season as Coastal Carolina’s opening day starter against Appalachian State, helping his team earn a 17-2 victory.

However, just fourteen games into their 2016 campaign, the Chanticleers were struggling with just a 7-7 overall record.

To make matters worse, Poole started to experience back pain during Coastal Carolina’s non-conference game against Ole Miss on March 5.

“I felt some pain, but pitched through it,” Poole said. “It got to the point where it kept getting worse.”

A CT scan revealed the worst possible news — Poole had three stress fractures in his back, and he quickly found himself in the bullpen in an emergency relief pitching role.

“After I found out exactly what my injury was, I took three weeks off and didn’t throw at all,” Poole said. “Not only did the injury put me out, but it affected the way I pitched. I lost all my mechanics and feel for the baseball.”

Fighting through his own personal adversity, Poole continued to support his teammates through their early-season struggles, and after a 4-2 loss to the College of Charleston on March 22, a player’s only meeting by Coastal Carolina was called.

“We talked amongst ourselves, and from this moment on, we had to leave it all on the table,” Poole said. “Right after that meeting, we put up more than 40 runs the whole weekend against Stetson.”

The Chanticleers would find their groove, winning the next seven games and outscoring their opponents, 80-26.

“We really started hitting our stride and playing like we were capable of,” Poole said. “We have a lot of tight-knit guys and a lot of seniors.”

That success on the diamond for Coastal Carolina carried through the rest of the regular season, and the Chanticleers won 37 of their next 45 games, including a 1-0 victory in the Big South Championship against Liberty University on May 28.

Entering the NCAA tournament selection show, Coastal Carolina was poised to potentially host one of eight regionals, but it ended up in the Raleigh Region with host North Carolina State.

“Before the selection show, we honestly thought we were going to host,” Poole said. “We had beaten some good teams. When they announced some host sites, they skipped us. It kind of put a little chip on our shoulder.”

After earning a 5-2 playoff-opening victory against St. Mary’s (Calif.), the Chanticleers prepared to face the Wolfpack three times in three days in a hostile Doak Field at Dial Park.

Earning two hard-fought victories, Coastal Carolina advanced in the postseason.

“That place was hostile,” Poole said of Doak Field. “That stadium gets loud the way it was built. We kind of fell in love with making the crowd go silent.”

With a College World series berth on the line, Coastal Carolina faced another tough test in its best-of-three Super Regional against Louisiana State University at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge.

“That place was 10 times more electric,” Poole said the comparison between Box Stadium and Doak Field.

Defying the odds, Coastal Carolina scored an 11-8 victory in game one against the No. 8 Tigers and walked off with a 4-3 win in game two to reach its first-ever College World Series.

Pandemonium ensued after Michael Paez’s walk-off single went over the head of LSU third baseman Chris Reid and scored Anthony Marks from second base in bottom of the ninth inning.

Chanticleer players celebrated by storming the field and collapsing on one another in between second and third base.

“I blacked out,” Poole said of the celebration. “I don’t remember I thing. I don’t remember the dogpile. Once I got up from the dogpile, I thought ‘this is really happening.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Coastal Carolina leaves today at 1 p.m. bound for its first-ever College World Series appearance at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

The Chanticleers (49-16) take on their second-straight Southeastern Conference opponent in top-ranked Florida (52-14) at 8 p.m. Sunday.

“We’re going to have our hands full,” Poole said of the Gators. “We’re going to face the SEC Pitcher of the Year Logan Shore. We’ve just got to bring our ‘A’ game.”

Texas Tech (46-18) and TCU (47-16) are also a part of the four-team double-elimination tournament, which will determine one of two semifinalists to play for the NCAA Championship.

Poole said the Chanticleers’ “blue collar” approach will help them stay competitive against some of the best talent in the country.

“None of us were really recruited by schools like Florida, South Carolina or Clemson,” he said. “We sort of always play with that chip on our shoulder when we’re playing teams bigger than us. We want to show them that they overlooked us.”

As for the Chanticleers’ chances of bringing back a national title, Poole thinks it’s more than possible.

“I believe in my heart that we can 100 percent win that national title,” he said. “We can’t take any plays off. I think we’ll be fine. It’s not going to be a ‘cake walk.’ We’ve just got to be mentally prepared and physically prepared.”