Gary Gilmore had said at times this postseason that he felt as if his Coastal Carolina baseball team was one of destiny. Other coaches reached out to him with similar thoughts during this incredible, inspiring and seemingly improbable run.
And perhaps they were all correct.
The Chanticleers capitalized on back-to-back Arizona errors in the top of the sixth inning Thursday to score four runs and break open what had been a scoreless pitchers’ duel to that point, and from there they held on through a dramatic bottom of the ninth for a 4-3 win over the Wildcats in the College World Series championship game before a crowd of 18,823 at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Chants (55-18) – who were down to their last strike in the NCAA regionals at N.C. State, who won the super regionals on a walk-off single at LSU and then won five potential elimination games on the biggest stage of all – are now national champions.
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I mean, I’m like numb, to be honest. To say Coastal Carolina, national champions. I mean, it’s got a great ring to it, but did we really think that was going to happen when we started this thing back in February? I surely didn’t. I thought we had a chance to be good, but I mean this is a sacred place to try to win. It’s been unbelievable.
Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore
Coastal Carolina – a school of just more than 10,000 students, making it a popular underdog story for fans here locally in Omaha as well as nationally – becomes the first program since Minnesota in 1956 to win the College World Series in its debut appearance and just the fourth team from outside the traditional power conferences to win it all in the past 25 years.
And the dream that Gilmore brought with him to his alma mater more than 20 years ago – when the facilities and so many other factors made such a thought seem exceptionally far-fetched – is now a reality ... and then some.
Gilmore worked for 21 seasons striving and grinding with the hope of one day just taking the Chants to Omaha, and then they go and win the whole thing.
Simply put, it will go down as one of the greatest accomplishments and stories in college baseball history.
“To achieve what these kids did is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Gilmore said on the field afterward. “... I mean, I’m like numb, to be honest. To say Coastal Carolina, national champions. I mean, it’s got a great ring to it, but did we really think that was going to happen when we started this thing back in February? I surely didn’t. I thought we had a chance to be good, but I mean this is a sacred place to try to win. It’s been unbelievable.”
Junior right-hander Alex Cunningham sent Ryan Haug down swinging on a 3-2 pitch to strand runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth and cap a dramatic final inning in which Arizona (49-24) had already scored one run and was threatening to steal the game.
Instead, the Chants came streaming out of the dugout as they have a few other times already this postseason, while converging next to the pitcher’s mound in their best dogpile yet as the Coastal Carolina coaching staff embraced on its own in a group hug.
“Is this insane?” Gilmore would say later while wiping his forehead after finishing his television interview.
As the celebration wound down, a group of the team’s veteran leaders were asked if they had ever truly thought this was possible.
A couple said yeah before senior second baseman Tyler Chadwick and junior shortstop Michael Paez smiled tellingly.
“Not at 7-7 I didn’t ... We always knew we had a good team, but ...,” Chadwick said.
“You never expect it,” Paez interjected.
“It’s almost destiny to be able to do this,” Chadwick added.
That word again.
Coastal Carolina, which had never won even an NCAA super regional game before this magical month, finished 6-2 here against the best competition in the country while beating Arizona, 2-1, in the best-of-three championship series.
Junior righty Andrew Beckwith, who had already thrown a pair of one-run complete-games to help get the Chants get this far, further grew his legend by holding Arizona scoreless until the bottom of the sixth when the Wildcats scrapped together two unearned runs on a two-out, two-run single by Jared Oliva.
By that point, though, Coastal Carolina had seized the momentum.
After managing just two harmless hits through the first five innings, the Chants started the sixth with a leadoff walk by senior David Parrett, a sacrifice bunt by senior Anthony Marks and a walk by Paez. Arizona righty Bobby Dalbec responded with a strikeout of senior Connor Owings, but a wild pitch on the third strike advanced the runners to second and third with two outs.
With senior Zach Remillard up to bat, the Wildcats’ defense had shaded toward the left side of the infield and second baseman Cody Ramer was consequently in perfect position to end the inning on Remillard’s grounder up the middle and just to the right of the bag.
He bobbled it, though, as the first run of the game came into score, and then he tried to throw toward third to get Paez out after he had rounded the bag. That ball got away for a second error on the play as another run scored.
And junior G.K. Young followed by punctuating the breakthrough inning with a mammoth two-run home run into the seats in right field for his 18th homer of the year and just the Chants’ second here over eight College World Series games in this cavernous ballpark.
“I never doubted this team for a minute,” Young said. “Hitting that home run and rounding those bases, every thought of being a little kid and wanting to play here – every single thought and emotion that has ever been in my mind – has just run through my head.”
Arizona showed its poise by getting two runs back in the bottom of that sixth inning, starting with a one-out walk by Cesar Salazar and later with two outs an error by sophomore first baseman Kevin Woodall Jr. on a grounder from Kyle Lewis.
Beckwith walked Alfonso Rivas to load the bases before Oliva singled on an 0-2 pitch to get the Wildcats on the scoreboard.
With two runners still on, the Chants called on Bobby Holmes from the bullpen. He promptly struck out Louis Boyd to end the inning and cap his own incredible postseason with 18 2/3 innings pitched and just four earned runs allowed.
Beckwith (15-1), meanwhile, finished with two unearned runs allowed on six hits and three walks over 5 2/3 innings to earn his third win of the College World Series. Making the start after getting an extra day of rest when the finale was postponed Wednesday night, he had also made one of the plays of the game in the bottom of the third, fielding a chopper back to the mound from Zach Gibbons and throwing home to get an out at the plate that kept the game scoreless at that point.
I hope it means 10 times more fans every year for Coastal Carolina and that we aren’t the red-headed stepchild anymore and people understand that Coastal Carolina is baseball and that we [aren’t] second to Clemson or to [South] Carolina or all those people.
Coastal Carolina’s G.K. Young
Overall, he went 23 2/3 innings here in Omaha while allowing four runs (two earned) on 19 hits and four walks with 14 strikeouts, and he was deservedly named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Cunningham took over in the seventh and worked out of a jam with runners on first and second and one out by getting a 6-4-3 double play from Haug, who came in at catcher after Salazar took a bat to the helmet on the follow-through of a swing.
But the tension was far from over.
Boyd drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth and Ramer singled to right to put runners on the corners with one out against Cunningham. Gibbons plated one run on a sac fly to center to make it a 4-3 game, and Ryan Aguilar followed with a double to the corner in left to put runners on second and third with two outs. Marks made a quick play on the ball to hold the runner at third.
And with a full count on Haug, Cunningham delivered that game-ending strikeout to finish this dream season in the most dramatic way possible.
“That 3-2 pitch, I literally self-talked myself. I said, ‘Alex, there’s no one better, all you’ve got to do is compete right here.’ Thankfully, it worked out,” Cunningham said. “I’m at a loss of words, to be quite honest with you. This is incredible.”
Said Gilmore: “I knew it was obviously a huge moment, but AC was taking his breaths and I was trying to match him and I was trying to pray all at the same time.”
Regardless of how many people nationally or here in Omaha knew anything about Coastal Carolina prior to this College World Series, nobody who witnessed this will ever forget these Chanticleers at this point.
Young led the offensive attack while going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. He had been saying all postseason that he thought the Chants were the best team in the country, and he helped prove it Thursday.
“I hope it means 10 times more fans every year for Coastal Carolina and that we aren’t the red-headed stepchild anymore and people understand that Coastal Carolina is baseball and that we [aren’t] second to Clemson or to [South] Carolina or all those people,” he said. “We come to play, and not to get a big head but we were tired and ready to make a statement that we are Coastal Carolina and we’re not second-best to anybody else.”
As for that thought Gilmore has carried with him these last several weeks ...
After this team rallied back from a two-run ninth-inning deficit and waited out an overnight weather delay in Raleigh to win that NCAA regional, after it swept LSU in the super regionals in one of the toughest environments in college baseball, after it then knocked off top-seeded Florida in its first game here and later rallied back through the losers bracket and again after losing the opener of this finals series with Arizona, yeah, maybe these Chants were indeed a team of destiny.
“Oh, there’s no doubt, absolutely,” he said when it was all over. “It’s who we are.”