When Coastal Carolina’s winner-take-all regional final with NC State was suspended in the ninth inning Monday night due to rain and the team was sent back to its hotel with its season on the line, coach Gary Gilmore offered a reassuring message and a very specific prediction to his players.
“When we got off the bus last night, I told them, ‘Go to bed. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to win this game – 1,000 percent,’ ” Gilmore would share later.
The players admittedly didn’t get much sleep and Gilmore’s full prediction was off by a few details, but the actual ending couldn’t have been any better or more momentous for the Chanticleers.
After a nearly 14-hour delay, Coastal Carolina and NC State resumed play Tuesday at Doak Field with one out in the top of the ninth inning, the bases loaded and the Chants trailing by two runs.
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A G.K. Young groundout plated one run, a Tyler Chadwick pinch-hit hit-by-pitch on an 0-2 count kept the inning going and a two-run single by Seth Lancaster that just barely dropped in front of the right fielder’s glove swung the game in their favor.
Billy Cooke added an RBI single, Mike Morrison pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth and the No. 2-seeded Chants completed a comeback nobody involved will ever forget while earning a 7-5 win over the top-seeded Wolfpack and clinching the program’s first NCAA super regionals berth since 2010.
“I told them last night when we got off the bus,” Gilmore said. “It didn’t quite pan out the way me and the Lord had talked about it. I had told him I wanted G.K. to get a hit and then we were going to squeeze a run in and then Mike was going to shove. It didn’t quite work that way, but Seth got the big hit and Mike came in and shoved. A lot of it was true.
“I just feel like this was meant to be for this group. It’s destiny with this group of kids.”
As Cooke raced back in center field to haul in the final out, gloves flew in the air and the players streamed out of the dugout and from all corners of the field to pile on top of each other on the mound in celebration.
For the third time in program history, the Chants are one of 16 teams remaining, heading to the super regionals and just two wins away from the program’s first-ever College World Series berth.
Coastal Carolina will play Louisiana State in Baton Rouge, La., in a best-of-three series starting Saturday.
“I mean, honestly I’ve never felt anything like it,” senior third baseman Zach Remillard said. “Since day one, a lot of us have been here all four years, and we’ve built a brotherhood. And we love each other to death. We go to war for each other and it’s just a great feeling – not only for yourself, but for everyone on this team. Everyone works so hard, everyone loves to be here every day and loves the game of baseball.
“I’m excited for our next step in this journey and couldn’t be happier or prouder.”
It was a crazy day and a half from the start in deciding this regional championship.
Coastal Carolina (47-16) had entered Monday riding a 12-game winning streak – including a win earlier in the weekend over NC State – and needed only one more win to get past the hosts and finish the deal.
But NC State (38-22) won the first regional final, 8-1, in a game in which Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent was ejected in the third inning and promptly suspended two games for his over-the-top protest to the umpires.
The second game was then delayed an hour and 40 minutes, first by rain and then by deliberations on how to proceed. The Chants shook all of that off, though, and took a quick lead in the top of the first inning when Michael Paez clubbed a two-run homer.
They later went up 3-1 in the fourth before NC State battled back.
After loading the bases with no outs in the bottom of the sixth, reliever Bobby Holmes looked like he was going to get out of the jam unscathed after picking up one out in the infield and then getting a ground ball to short from Evan Mendoza. Paez fielded it cleanly and flipped to Lancaster at second to start the inning-ending double play, but the umpire ruled first baseman Kevin Woodall Jr. was off the bag.
One run scored to tie the game, and Preston Palmeiro then followed with an RBI single through the left side to give NC State a 4-3 lead.
The Wolfpack later made it 5-3 in the eighth and seemed to have all the momentum as the Chants were down to their final three outs.
But the game was far from over – figuratively and literally.
Anthony Marks and Paez led off the ninth with back-to-back walks, Connor Owings moved them to second and third with a sacrifice bunt and with the rain pouring down Remillard hit a dribbler down the third base line. Mendoza tried unsuccessfully to tag Marks as he retreated to the bag, leaving the bases loaded with one out and G.K. Young coming to the plate.
That’s when the umpires decided the rain had become too much and halted the game a few minutes after midnight.
“If I told you I got any sleep, I’d be lying, honestly,” Young said. “That was the longest night of my life.”
When play resumed Tuesday afternoon, NC State opted to keep reliever Evan Brabrand on the mound and Young hit a grounder down the first base line on his second pitch. One run scored to make it 5-4, but the Wolfpack also had the second out as the tension mounted.
Gilmore then pinch-hit Chadwick, his normal senior starter who had been sidelined with an oblique injury, for Woodall, and Brabrand quickly worked the count to 0-2 as the drama escalated even more. Chadwick battled to foul off two pitches before being plunked by the next one to reach base.
That brought up Lancaster, who attacked the second pitch he saw and rifled a low liner to right. NC State’s Brock Deatherage came sliding in to make the catch, and for a moment it wasn’t clear if he had or not, but the umpire signaled it was a hit as the tying and go-ahead runs came around to score.
“The first pitch I almost swung at, and I’m really glad I didn’t,” Lancaster said. “They threw me about six of those last game. I took that one and he grooved me a fastball and I hit it and it hung up almost too long. I thought he caught it. As soon as he slid I stared at the umpire and was praying and hoping he would say he didn’t catch it, and he didn’t.
“I just wanted to come through for this class and all they’ve done for me personally off the field, on the field. I wanted to do it for them and not make this their last [game].”
Cooke added an RBI single to make it 7-5 and then sealed the win with a great running catch in center as Morrison, the Chants’ stalwart senior closer, notched his 10th save with a perfect final inning and quickly found himself on the bottom of the dogpile.
“I was yelling at the bottom, I just didn’t want them to get up. I told them just stay there, let’s stay here a couple minutes,” Morrison said. “I’m so happy for Coach Gilmore. At the end of the day, we play for ourselves, but that guy, we wouldn’t be anywhere without him. And the emotion on his face after that game, to see how happy that makes him is very special to us seniors. That guy just wants to win more than anyone in the world. ...
“And to try to get him where he wants to be, we’re going to keep working, keep trusting the process, winning pitches and see what we can do next week.”