Gary Gilmore started his postgame news conference Tuesday by saying he was “speechless,” but that wasn’t quite true.
After watching his Coastal Carolina baseball team rally from a two-run ninth-inning deficit in dramatic fashion and defeat host NC State, 7-5, to reach the Chanticleers’ third-ever NCAA super regional, Gilmore actually had plenty to say.
About how significant and unpredictable these opportunities are for a program. And about how special and fortunate a team has to be – especially at a so-called “mid-major” like Coastal Carolina – to see it all come together.
Mostly, he talked about how this particular Chants team has distinguished itself within the history of a proud program.
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“I’ve coached 31 years and this is one of the finest group of young men I’ve ever been around,” Gilmore said. “They simply refuse to quit. You watch it in how they play and how they go about doing what they do. They’re going to be great people in life when their baseball years end just because of the makeup and who they are. They’re as close-knit a group as I’ve had in 31 years and that will take them a long way.”
It wasn’t coach-speak. It wasn’t Gilmore getting caught up in the moment.
It was an emotional, heartfelt assessment from a coach who never leaves his true feelings to the imagination – for better or worse.
It’s one of those special rides as a coach. It doesn’t happen very often and when you have it you just don’t want it to ever end – 2010 could have gone on till the end of time for every one of us, and this team is very similar.
CCU baseball coach Gary Gilmore
He didn’t have to say anything, though – these Chants (47-16) have now cemented their place as one of the greatest teams in school history.
And as that set in Tuesday afternoon, his players lent their own perspective to the significance of the moment.
“Growing up, watching Coastal play baseball and watching them play basically in my backyard, in 2010 they went to the super [regional] and that was my dream to put on a Chanticleer jersey and do what we just did,” said junior designated hitter G.K. Young, a Conway native.
“I’ve been dreaming of doing that my whole life with Coach Gilmore, and we’ve got a group of seniors that have led this team to where we are and pushed everybody everyday. Even when the coaches couldn’t be there, we put together practices on our off day and we grinded and grinded. This is a dream, and it’s amazing.”
This season began with ballooning expectations and anticipation that this Coastal Carolina baseball team could join the likes of the 2008 and 2010 teams that reached the NCAA super regionals, and have a chance to get to the program’s first College World Series.
Well, the first part of that has now been realized – in the most dramatic way anyone could have envisioned – and the second part suddenly doesn’t seem so far away.
It’s been since 2010 I’ve had a team that has a brotherhood like this one does.
Down 5-3 entering the ninth inning, the Chants had loaded the bases with one out Monday night before a relentless downpour of rain halted the game a little past midnight.
The players and coaches had nearly 14 restless hours to think about their season being at stake before returning to the field Tuesday and plating four runs in the ninth to complete a comeback that now ranks as one of the biggest wins in program history.
“Being at any school, but especially what people consider us [as] a mid-major, to have all the pieces fall into place for us to be a team that challenges to get to a super regional and to challenge to get to Omaha [and the College World Series], you’ve got to have a lot of upperclassmen to lead the way,” Gilmore continued.
“And a lot of times we lose them in the draft so you’re missing a piece here and missing a piece there, and not that we haven’t lost a little bit here or there, but this group has simply found a way to overcome it. It’s mainly because of that group of seniors and juniors that have been together for so long.”
Which made it perfectly fitting that most of those veterans played a role in the against-the-odds ninth-inning rally.
Growing up, watching Coastal play baseball and watching them play basically in my backyard, in 2010 they went to the super [regional] and that was my dream to put on a Chanticleer jersey and do what we just did.
CCU junior G.K. Young
Senior left fielder Anthony Marks and junior shortstop Michael Paez started it with back-to-back walks. Senior right fielder Connor Owings, the Big South Player of the Year, laid down a sacrifice bunt to move them up a base, and senior third baseman Zach Remillard battled his way on with a dribbler down the third base line to load the bases in the pouring rain.
After the overnight delay, Young plated the first run on a groundout to first Tuesday. Senior first baseman Tyler Chadwick, who had been sidelined by an oblique injury, fought back from an 0-2 count as a pinch-hitter and drew a hit by pitch to keep the inning going.
And after sophomore Seth Lancaster’s two-run single and sophomore Billy Cooke’s RBI single delivered the knockout blow, senior closer Mike Morrison closed out the win.
It’s been a collaborative effort all year, and in the season’s most significant moment that was no different.
“It’s been since 2010 I’ve had a team that has a brotherhood like this one does,” Gilmore said. “These guys 20 years from now, they’ll call one another up and it will be like they haven’t seen each other for maybe a day or two. They’re that close, they will never lose touch with one another and they’ll be the greatest of friends till the day they die, just like that 2010 team is. Those guys still hang out together and do stuff together. It’s a unique bond and it’s gotten us through this whole year.”
After the Chants had gotten down the road on their way home Tuesday night, Gilmore talked more by phone about the emotions and significance of what his team had accomplished Tuesday.
He talked about the off-the-field struggles the baseball family has endured, with pitching coach Drew Thomas’ wife Jaymie receiving treatments for breast cancer and associate head coach Kevin Schnall having some health scares with his son, and that through it all they’ve had this season to help hold everything together.
“It’s one of those special rides as a coach,” Gilmore said. “It doesn’t happen very often and when you have it you just don’t want it to ever end – 2010 could have gone on till the end of time for every one of us, and this team is very similar.”
In the six years since the Chants’ last NCAA super regional appearance, when they hosted South Carolina for two dramatic games while coming up just short in each, Gilmore admits he wondered if they’d get another chance. It’s only natural.
Especially as the Chants went through a trying year in every way in 2014 while suffering their first losing season – 24-33 – since 1997 and missing the NCAA tournament entirely for the first time in eight years.
“Oh yeah, it creeps in,” he said of those thoughts. “It crept in on this group several times during the year. Are we going to get there? But it’s just something you can’t harp on. … I had people blowing my phone up [this weekend] that they missed a call a first base, missed a call at second base, this guy was safe at home. You can’t control it.
“You just have to grind it out and keep believing every year, even the lean years, that somewhere along the way it will click and you get it going long enough.”
The Chants have it going right now, and it’s been something to watch – Tuesday just being the latest example.
Now they head off to a best-of-three super regional series starting Saturday with Louisiana State in Baton Rouge, La., where these Chants will get a chance to do something no team in Coastal Carolina history has done.
Their place in program lore is no doubt secured now, but the ride isn’t over yet.
“It’s just awesome. It’s just a great group of guys,” Chadwick said. “… Like Coach Gilmore said, we’re going to be the best of friends forever, and we’ve still got two more wins to go.”