Anthony Marks had no sooner completed his slide across home plate in the eighth inning when he rose and smacked his hands together in one motion before clenching his fists near his waist and letting out a celebratory howl.
As many of the teal-clad supporters in the stadium – and back home, for that matter – surely mirrored his response.
For a Coastal Carolina baseball team that has produced so many heart-pounding, unforgettable moments this postseason, these Chanticleers showed Tuesday night they’re far from done.
Facing elimination in the best-of-three finals of the College World Series, the Chants broke open a tied game with three runs in the top of the eighth inning and would need every one of them while holding on for a 5-4 win over Arizona before a crowd of 24,716 at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I could never put into words how proud I am of this group of guys. They just keep finding ways to win,” coach Gary Gilmore said afterward.
Marks had led off that eighth inning with a single up the middle, took second on a sacrifice bunt from Michael Paez and then scored as Connor Owings got jammed while blooping a go-ahead single into shallow left field.
And that was the momentum the Chants had been looking for all game.
Zach Remillard followed with a double down the left field line and G.K. Young plated two more – and ultimately the decisive runs – with a single down the first base line.
After Arizona scored twice in the bottom of the inning, reliever Bobby Holmes and these resilient, tenacious Chants (54-18) made sure there was no more drama in the ninth while pushing this incredible season to its furthest possible point.
They’ll now square off with the Wildcats (49-23) in a winner-take-all finale for the national championship Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET.
“One game away, we don’t make it easy on ourselves, do we?” Owings said. “But one more game in a Coastal Carolina uniform and it’s for a national championship, you can’t write them any better than that. And I’m so excited to compete with these guys one more time. I love them all and it’s going to be a very special game.”
I’m going to have to go take some NyQuil to try to go to sleep, honestly, because I’ve never been so excited in my whole life. We’re about to play for a national championship and I’m getting to do it in the shirt I’ve always wanted to wear, and the team I’ve always wanted to do it [with] and the coach I’ve always wanted to do it for. So it’s like a dream.
CCU designated hitter G.K. Young
While there were many heroes in this win for Coastal Carolina, as there have been throughout this storybook season, it started with yet another superlative performance from senior closer Mike Morrison – this time as a starter.
Facing elimination and having already stated emphatically that junior ace Andrew Beckwith would not start on just three full days rest, Gilmore and pitching coach Drew Thomas went to their other best option.
Morrison had only two career starts – both last season – before Tuesday night, but it made plenty of sense for the Chants to go with the steely senior stalwart regardless of the role.
And, in turn, it was no surprise either that he rose to the occasion, setting career highs with 6 2/3 innings pitched and 10 strikeouts while holding Arizona to two runs on six hits and two walks over 103 pitches.
“Obviously I wanted the ball in this situation,” Morrison said. “If I’m the epitome of Coastal baseball, if we’re going to lose I’d like to be on the mound when we lose. ... But it was good. It was very fun and very, very exciting and definitely the coolest game I’ve ever pitched in my entire life.”
He needed to be that good Tuesday night, too, because Arizona got yet another tremendous pitching performance – as has been its hallmark through its run here in Omaha – with junior righty Kevin Ginkel allowing just two runs (one earned) on five hits through seven innings.
Ginkel, who had just 35 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings coming in, matched Morrison with 10 strikeouts as both tied the single-game record for the College World Series finals, becoming the fourth and fifth pitchers to accomplish the feat.
Used to bailing his teammates out of jams all season, Morrison put himself in a few binds against Arizona and was mostly effective in limiting the damage while giving the Chants every chance to even the series.
The Wildcats had the bases loaded with one out in the first, but they would come away with only one run.
Morrison then mostly cruised through the second and third innings while giving the Chants time to pull ahead.
After a rough start offensively, including three straight strikeouts in the top of the second, Coastal Carolina got a spark in the third on a Billy Cooke leadoff single. He took second when Ginkel lost his grip for a woefully wild pitch. The Wildcats then let a sky-high pop-up drop in just behind the left side of the infield as David Parrett raced all the way to second to put two runners in scoring position with one out.
That brought up Marks, one of Coastal Carolina’s most clutch hitters this postseason, and he delivered yet again, slapping an opposite-field single through the left side to plate both runners for a 2-1 lead.
“The resiliency of this team, it just comes from the combination of all the individuals that are doing stuff. It’s not one guy,” Gilmore said. “As much as Mike is on one end, Anthony Marks is that spark-plug guy on the other end. Heck, he got three huge hits for us today.”
Marks went 3-for-4 with those two RBIs and the big run he would score in the eighth after the Wildcats later tied it again.
One game away, we don’t make it easy on ourselves, do we? But one more game in a Coastal Carolina uniform and it’s for a national championship, you can’t write them any better than that. And I’m so excited to compete with these guys one more time. I love them all and it’s going to be a very special game.
CCU right fielder Connor Owings
Arizona had applied more pressure in the fourth inning when Bobby Dalbec led off with an infield single up the middle and Cesar Salazar reached on a hit by pitch. A Jared Oliva sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third with one out, but after a mound visit from Thomas, Morrison responded with back-to-back strikeouts of Justin Behnke and Louis Boyd – the latter on a fastball well up and away.
Eventually, the Wildcats broke through again in the fifth after a leadoff walk to Cody Ramer and a Zach Gibbons single put runners on first and third with no outs. Morrison came back to strike out JJ Matijevic and then induced Ryan Aguilar into a potential double-play grounder, but the ball got to second baseman Tyler Chadwick too slowly as the Chants had to settle for one out while the tying run scored.
It then stayed 2-2 until Marks and Owings put the Chants ahead once more in that pivotal top of the eighth.
Coastal Carolina’s top-of-the-order catalyst, its instigator for so many big situations welcomed reliever Cameron Ming into the game with that leadoff single to start what will go down as one of the biggest innings in program history.
And as Marks later celebrated at home plate, the ESPN cameras panned to Owings’ mother Sherri in the stands as she teared up watching the Big South Player of the Year add another unforgettable moment to his own loaded senior resume.
“He made a great pitch, top of the zone inner half and it just caught me a little off time, but I was able to find some grass out there and baseball’s a crazy game,” Owings said. “You hit some balls on the nose and get out and then you’re able to hit a ball off your thumbs and get a hit in the national championship to put your team up.”
Said Marks: “It was unbelievable emotions. I knew Connor was going to get that done for sure. He’s one of our guys, he’s been our guy all year and when he kind of flipped it over third I knew the defense the way they were playing that was going to get down. ... I knew I was going to score again, just like [the super regional-clinching run] at LSU. There’s really no stopping you when you want something that bad, and I know everybody in there wanted to win this game so bad.”
After Remillard’s double knocked Ming out of the game and Young ripped an Alfonso Rivas offering down the first base line to make it 5-2, it seemed like the Chants had a little breathing room – but not nearly as much as they might have thought.
Those extra runs seemed even bigger when the Wildcats answered back with two runs in the bottom of the inning. They had loaded the bases with no outs on an Aguilar single and walks to Dalbec and Salazar. Holmes got Oliva to pop out to Paez at short, but Arizona pushed one run across on Behnke’s fielder’s choice ground out to first and another when Boyd’s grounder to short eluded Paez’s grasp for an error to make it 5-4.
Holmes, yet another one of the Chants’ postseason stars on this amazing run, got out of that inning, though, and then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. As first baseman Kevin Woodall Jr. caught a liner for the final out, Holmes (7-2) – who went 2 1/3 innings for the win – pounded his chest and let out his own scream as his teammates came streaming out of the dugout.
“You know I’m no stranger to adversity, so I’m almost more comfortable in those situations than [with] a three-run lead, I think,” he said. “But you know, the eighth inning I don’t think I took a breath the whole time so I had to regroup in the dugout and tell myself that I was going to be all right. The ninth inning I really made sure that I was breathing well.”
There’s no better way to sum up this moment than to say simply that Coastal Carolina is one win away from a national championship now as the anticipation mounts for the biggest game in school history Wednesday night.
“I’m going to have to go take some NyQuil to try to go to sleep, honestly, because I’ve never been so excited in my whole life,” Young said. “We’re about to play for a national championship and I’m getting to do it in the shirt I’ve always wanted to wear, and the team I’ve always wanted to do it [with] and the coach I’ve always wanted to do it for. So it’s like a dream.”
College World Series Finals
Who | Coastal Carolina vs. Arizona
What | Finale of best-of-three championship series
Where | TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
When | 8 p.m. ET
TV | ESPN
Radio | WSEA-FM 100.3