May 26, 2010

By Amy Farnum

Behind every great pitching staff is a solid, consistent catcher, and that has never more true than at Coastal Carolina this season.  

Senior Jose Iglesias has been something of an iron man behind the plate for the fourth-ranked Chanticleers, catching in all but one of 54 games this season, while anchoring one of the nation’s top pitching staffs.  The six-foot-five native of Miami, Fla., boasts a .995 fielding percentage and has gunned down 16 of 26 potential base stealers on the year, while his pitchers have compiled a 3.11 ERA – fourth-best in Division I.

“He’s first and foremost one of our very best players, but he’s also the heart and soul of our team,” said head coach Gary Gilmore.  “He’s the guy that all of our pitchers want to throw to – he’s the guy they believe in.”

Iglesias, who spent his freshman season in a limited role at St. John’s University, transferred to Coastal Carolina three years ago.  As his sophomore, Iglesias served as the backup catcher, making 19 starts and appearing in 38 games during his first season in Conway, S.C.  He batted just .263 and collected almost as many strikeouts as hits at the plate, but was errorless in the field.

Last year, Iglesias took over the full-time at catcher, starting all but six contests during the season, gaining more of the pitching staff’s trust with every game.  He also became more comfortable at the plate, batting .306 with 29 of his 59 hits going for extra bases, including 11 home runs.

“(The pitchers believe) he’s going to be the guy that makes that big play for them behind the plate when they need it,” said Gilmore.  “It’s nice to have confidence in your catcher if you bury a ball in the dirt or miss a location by a lot that he makes something good out of it.  All great pitching staffs have a guy behind the plate that is the leader of the group – a guy they just believe has their back.”

“I’m noticing more things when they are pitching like tendencies with hitters,” said Iglesias.  “As a group, we’re working really well together.”

Iglesias, one of 12 semifinalists for the Coleman Company-Johnny Bench Award, has also become one of the team’s most consistent hitters.  This season, he leads the squad with 67 RBI and 13 home runs, and ranks second on the team with a .339 batting average.  

“When we need a big hit, I don’t think there’s a guy on the team anyone on the team would want up more than Jose,” said Gilmore.  “He’s our emotional leader.”  

“I don’t let the little things bother me anymore,” said Iglesias.  “Last year, when I would make an out, I would take it out on the field with me and that would affect the rest of my game.  This year, I just let it go.  I know I’m going to have more at bats in the game.”

Iglesias’ new approach may be related to Gilmore’s commitment to working on the mental aspect of the game with his team, and hiring peak performance coach Brian Cain to consult with the program.

“We put a lot of time into our mental development along with the physical part this season,” said Gilmore.  “Brian Cain has been a huge part of that – from his visit in the fall to our weekly phone visits with him.  In years past, we’ve never really had an organized plan with the mental part of the game, and that has been a huge factor in what has happened this year for us.”

“We don’t worry about who we’re going to play,” said Iglesias.  “We just worry about going out and doing our own thing this year.  When we played big teams like North Carolina and Clemson in the past, I think we would get a little too excited and too amped up and play out of our own game.  I think we’re more focused on what we do best now.”

The Chanticleers have put together a 47-7 record, and their .870 winning percentage is the best in Division I, so something must be clicking.

“We also have more diversified pieces of the puzzle at one time than we’ve ever had,” said Gilmore.  “We’ve always had a lot of good players and good team, but I don’t know that we’ve ever had this many pieces that I can mix and match, especially on the pitcher’s mound.”

Coastal Carolina posted a perfect Big South Conference record of 25-0 this season, and will be looking to make its case for one of the NCAA Tournament’s eight national seeds at the league tournament in Rock Hill, S.C., this week.  But, the Chanticleers know it won’t an easy road to a conference championship as the other league members will be battling for the NCAA automatic bid as well.

“(Going undefeated is) a great feat for any team in any conference,” said Iglesias.  “Whenever we play within the conference it is always a battle because they are excited to play us, so we have to be ready to play them.”

“We’ll try to continue playing well and do everything we can to win our tournament,” said Gilmore. “I’m not going to recycle arms and throw our guys twice in a tournament.  At this point, I’m sure we’ll be one of the 64 that gets a chance to play … where we fall in that group is out of my control.  As long as we’re one of the 64, we have a chance.”

Coastal Carolina begins Big South Championship play against VMI on May 26 at 11 a.m. ET.