Coastal Carolina staved off a furious comeback attempt from Arizona to win Game 3 of the College World Series final round, 4-3. The victory earns the Chanticleers their first national title in program history after a marathon ride through the 2016 NCAA Baseball Tournament.
Once up 4-0, Coastal watched its lead dwindle to 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth after Arizona batted one in on a sac fly to center. Big bat Ryan Aguilar followed that up with a double to left and suddenly Cody Ramer was standing on third base. Cunningham white-knuckled his way through the final batter to strike him out, though, and earned his first career save in 42 appearances for the Chants. It's significant that Cunningham had to face Arizona's backup catcher, Ryan Haug, after starter Cesar Salazar took a bat to the back of the head in the top of the seventh.
The final out!— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 30, 2016
Coastal Carolina wins its first-ever NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! https://t.co/EmYdFtoEUh
LET'S GO!!! CHANTS UP!!https://t.co/2DvR2qLR8r— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 30, 2016
Game 3 was originally set to go on Wednesday night, but a rash of bad weather in Omaha caused a postponement until Thursday afternoon. With the threat of more storms Thursday night, and with ESPN and ESPN2 under contract to air Wimbledon and the Euro Cup, the most important college baseball game of the year went off at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The delay caused broader ripples than just inconveniencing viewers, though. Coastal had scheduled Alex Cunningham to pitch against Zona big man Bobby Dalbec on Wednesday night, but given the extra day of rest, righty Andrew Beckwith took the mound for the Chants on Thursday. Beckwith has been stellar all year, notching an NCAA-leading 14 wins with just a 1.91 ERA, and it was certainly to Coastal's advantage that he was available to throw.
So with both teams' aces on the hill, the Chants and Cats settled in for tight pitchers' duel and it was a race to see which arm would falter first. Arizona did build up a handful of threats in the first three innings, and to be sure the Wildcats appeared to score a run in the third, but Chants catcher David Parrett's phantom tag was erroneously called for an out.
Here's Ramer sliding safe pic.twitter.com/C69sqIy5Rj— Jeff Gray (@Jeff_GraySBN) June 30, 2016
With Cody Ramer called out, that put an end to yet another Arizona buildup. The Wildcats moved five runners into scoring position in first three innings, in fact, but none of them reached home.
The Chants took a bit longer to warm up the bats, but when they finally did they got hot in a hell of a hurry. In the top of the sixth Coastal exploded for four runs in a two-out rally aided by a pair of errors from none other than Ramer, who by now was having a very bad day. The Chanticleers had men at second and third due to a wild pitch when slugger Zach Remillard slapped a blooping chopper to Ramer, who couldn't field it cleanly. The initial error scored Anthony Marks, while Ramer's high throw to third plated Parrett.
After the dust settled, Remillard was aboard at second and home run machine G.K. Young was up to bat. The Conway native proceeded to rip the cover off the ball.
GK YOUNG WITH ONE OF THE BIGGEST HOME RUNS IN COASTAL CAROLINA BASEBALL HISTORY!! pic.twitter.com/AzS37zPaR9— #RoadToOmaha (@RoadToOmaha_) June 30, 2016
It would be a severe understatement to say that Coastal was jacked after the whole sequence, which had the double effect of ending Dalbec's outing.
Credit the Wildcats, though. A four-run lead in TD Ameritrade Park is often insurmountable. The ranging outfield and outsized dimensions flatten most power hitting teams, favoring just the style of play that Arizona likes. And so it's unsurprising that the Cats plated two runners in the bottom of the sixth when Jared Oliva squirted a two-out, bases-loaded single into left. All six runs in the game were unearned at that point.
Beckwith's day was thus done, and it was up to workhorse Bobby Holmes to usher the Chants out of the inning. Interestingly, though, it wasn't Holmes that came back out in the seventh, but starter Alex Cunningham, who got into a bit of a jam and proceeded to force a double play to end the inning. Such was the tension in the Chanticleers' dugout that closer Mike Morrison -- who dealt a 103-pitch career game Tuesday night -- tied on his spikes and stalked around, waiting for his chance.
It's been a magical run for Coastal!https://t.co/3ZnxpmOG65— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 29, 2016
The Chants, who won the Big South regular season and tournament titles, rightly could’ve hosted a regional tilt this year. They’d beaten Virginia, Duke and North Carolina in the regular season, and they toppled powerhouses LSU, Florida and TCU to make it to the College World Series final round. Gary Gilmore has built himself something of a baseball empire in Conway, S.C., having been at the helm for 21 seasons, 14 tournament appearances and four super regional runs.
Coastal’s first title is no fluke, then; it’s just Gilley finally earning his due.