After dropping the series opener to Arizona on Monday night, Coastal Carolina bounced back with a 5-4 win Tuesday to force a Game 3 rubber match in the 2016 College World Series. The Chanticleers’ tournament run thus continues for one final game against a Wildcats club that had given up just six runs in Omaha before Game 2.
Though this is Coastal’s first trip to Omaha, the Chants under coach Gary Gilmore are no strangers to postseason play. In Gilmore’s 21 seasons at the helm, Coastal has made the tournament 14 times and advanced to the super regionals four times. Now tied 1-1 with Jay Johnson’s Wildcats in the NCAA Baseball Tournament finals, Gilmore stands poised to bring the program’s first ever title to Conway, S.C.
The Chanticleers’ run through the tourney isn’t as improbable as some may think. Coastal features robust power hitting -- socking the most home runs in the NCAA this year -- and it can also play smart and fast small-ball. They’re selfless in their willingness to bunt teammates around the base paths and they’re aggressive runners at that.
And they played a murderous out-of-conference schedule this year. Never mind that the Chants were the 2016 Big South regular season and conference tournament champions. They beat last year’s CWS champs Virginia, 5-4, back in February. They beat Duke, 10-6, and Ohio State, 3-2, a week later. They beat North Carolina, 6-3, in Chapel Hill. All before the postseason had even begun -- to say nothing of their tournament triumphs over NC State (twice), LSU (twice in 24 hours), Florida, Texas Tech and TCU (twice in 24 hours).
The Chants can play, especially with their backs against the wall, and with the win, they’ve gifted us all a deciding matchup between two of the most entertaining college baseball teams in recent memory.
Entering Game 2, it remained up in the air concerning who would start on the mound for Coastal and Arizona. Interestingly, both teams elected to throw non-starters to begin the night, with Coastal's Mike Morrison -- normally a late-game shutdown closer -- getting the nod for his first start all season. Morrison threw masterfully against Texas Tech in an elimination game last Thursday, going 4 1/3 innings on 83 pitches. He had been champing at the bit throughout the back-to-back TCU games, but Gilmore was reluctant to throw him on such little rest after the marathon outing.
Arizona opened with Kevin Ginkel, who's playing in his first season for the Wildcats and has started just six games all year. He last took the helm against Louisiana-Lafayette in the deciding game of the Lafayette regional, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing one run. Otherwise, he hadn't pitched since June 6.
Runs have been at a premium for the duration of the CWS, so it looked like Arizona would pick up right where it left off in Game 1 when the Cats plated a runner in the bottom of the first. But Coastal came right back at them in the top of the third after feisty Anthony Marks shot two runners across off a well aimed single to left-center.
Marks, for his part, was feeling it, especially since he had returned to his coveted lead-off spot in the rotation.
As was Arizona's sprightly dugout, which threw one of the most lit dance parties ever between the third and fourth innings.
Arizona came out in the bottom of the fifth and immediately strung together a walk and a single to net runners at the corners, then Ryan Aguilar chopped a high bouncer to second that proved too slow for Coastal to turn a double play, scoring one run. Morrison was by then well into the 80s on his pitch count and cracks in the armor started to show, but he struck out Arizona third baseman Bobby Dalbec and hightailed it back to the dugout.
Ginkel answered in kind over the next two innings, though, blanking the Chanticleers and sending the game knotted 2-2 into the bottom of the seventh. Morrison forced a pop fly and a groundout to get through the first two outs, but after 7 2/3 innings his night was over. With 103 pitches and 10 strikeouts, he'd pitched a career outing in the most important game of his career. Fellow closer Bobby Holmes spelled him from there and forced JJ Matijevic to pop out to left, and to the eighth they went.
Mop-up closer Cameron Ming took over for Ginkel in the top of the eighth and immediately gave up a single to none other than Marks. Michael Paez bunted Marks over to second, then Connor Owings came up huge with a clutch single blooper to left plating Marks. Just like that Coastal was back on top, 3-2. After Zach Remillard bashed a double down the third base line, Ming's night was done after just 1/3 inning and one earned run.
The jam proved too much for Alfonso Rivas, who coughed up a nasty two-run single to G.K. Young and left the game then and there with the Chants up, 5-2. The bottom of the frame saw the Wildcats build a bases-loaded threat that crossed two Wildcats, and suddenly it was a one-run game heading into the ninth, 5-4 Chanticleers.
Coastal failed to cross any runners in the top of the ninth, and Holmes downed the side in order to send the series to a Wednesday rubber match. This is the first College World Series that has featured 17 such deciding games, the most in tournament history.