Cane Cutters: LHP Best led talented pitching staff in 1st collegiate league season

He didn’t need the run support, but he received it anyway.

Chandler Best mowed through opposing batters, striking out 12 and surrendering just three hits in his six scoreless innings for the Acadiana Cane Cutters of the Texas Collegiate League Friday, July 31.

His teammates collected 19 hits in their 18-0 shutout of Texarkana Twins.

The victory marked Best’s last — and probably his strongest — outing of the summer league season. Over his five starts, Best accumulated a team-high 33 strikeouts (second-most in the TCL) and a 1.99 ERA in his 22.2 innings of work.

Best was named TCL South Player of the Week in consecutive weeks to end the regular season.

The Mobile, Al native made just four starts before the COVID-19 outbreak wiped out the remainder of his freshman season at the University of Southern Mississippi.

With just 11.1 innings pitched and his season coming to an abrupt end in early March, the lefty said it was an easy decision to make his summer league debut with Acadiana.

“I wasn’t really planning on playing summer ball,” he explained. “A lot of our pitchers [at Southern Miss] weren’t really planning to, depending on how many innings we got. But, once all of this (COVID-19 outbreak) happened, my pitching coach (Southern Miss pitching coach Christian Ostrander) gave me a call and said the team had reached out so I thought it was a great opportunity.

“A lot of the older guys on my team at Southern Miss had played here in previous years and told me they loved it and had a great experience so it was an easy choice to come here.”

Acadiana got off to a slow start this summer, putting up a 5-10 record through the first half of the season before rattling off nine wins over the last 13 games to finish 14-14.

Following a three-game weekend series sweep of Texarkana – including a season finale 14-13 walk-off victory on a wild pitch Sunday, Aug. 2 – the Cane Cutters narrowly missed out on a playoff berth.

The bats provided run support, especially with four double-digit performances over those last 13 games of the season, but the Best-led pitching staff proved just as vital to Acadiana’s late-season success.

The remaining 23 of Acadiana’s games not started by Best were started by a combination of Bailey Holstein (UNO), Riyan Rodriguez (Arkansas Tech), Cameron Barlow (ULM), Nik Millsap (Northwestern State), Brandon Mitchell (UNO), Hunter Meche (LSUA) and MaKhail Hilliard (LSU).

Millsap posted a 2.22 ERA in six appearances (three starts); Meche made just one start, but posted a 1.10 ERA over his 10 appearances; Mitchell tossed 13.1 innings over his four starts, posting a 0.68 ERA.

Reliever Hayden Johns (DBU) pitched 15.0 innings, in seven appearances, without surrendering a run.

Offensively, Trace Henry (ULM) batted .341, which is tied for fifth-best in the league among players averaging 2.7 at bats per game, according to the league website. The outfielder collected 29 hits, 19 runs and eight stolen bases in 85 at bats.

Outfielder Will Veillon (Baton Rouge CC) hit for a team-high .359 average with a pair of homers and nine runs batted in over his 14 games.

Outfielder Cole McConnell (Louisiana Tech) led the team in RBI with 18, while infielder Peyton Lejeune (LSUE) added 17, infielder Zavier Moore (Southern) recorded 13 and outfielder Caleb Hill (Nicholls State) finished with 11.

McConnell and Moore each had a team-high 92 at bats over the summer, with McConnell hitting .337 in his team-leading 25 games.

With the summer league schedule a bit more condensed and involving a more rigorous travel agenda, Best said it certainly took some adjusting early in the season. The schedule afforded him a glimpse into what he’d potentially deal with if he ended up in the minor leagues in the future.

The coaching staff, made up of manager Ricky VanAsselberg and assistant coach Darien Dukes, also played a key role in introducing Best and his teammates to what the minor leagues could look like for them.

“Oh, they’ve been awesome,” Best said. “They played professional baseball and have coached in different leagues so they give us a lot of insight into how it’s going to be if we make it to the next level. They treat this club like it’s a professional team, so I think it’s been a great experience for all of us.”

Best said he enjoyed the season so much that he would “definitely consider participating in the future, for sure.”

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