OMAHA, Neb. >> Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore often said he just wanted his team to reach the College World Series.
Until this week, he never imagined the Chanticleers would do so much
more: They’re heading back to Conway, S.C., with the school’s first national championship in any sport.
The Chanticleers defeated Arizona 4-3 in the deciding Game 3 of the
College World Series final on Thursday, capitalizing on two errors on
the same play to score four unearned runs in the sixth inning of a game
delayed a day by bad weather.
It was worth the wait.
“Whenever I die, I’ll know this group of guys here, they willed
themselves to be the national champion,” Gilmore said. “It was just
meant to be, no doubt. If there is such a thing as a team of destiny,
this group is it.”
Coastal Carolina (55-18) became the first team since Minnesota in
1956 to win the title in its first CWS appearance. Arizona (49-24) was
trying for its second national title since 2012, but came up just short
in a season in which it was picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12.
“Amazing season, and they’re a deserving champion,” first-year
Arizona coach Jay Johnson said of the Chanticleers. “We played as good
as we possibly could this year, and they’re the best team we’ve played,
in my opinion.”
Andrew Beckwith (15-1), the national leader in wins, went 52⁄3
innings after pitching two complete games and picked up his third
victory of the CWS. He was named the most outstanding player.
“He’s been coaching for 21 years, and he deserves every bit of it,”
Beckwith said of Gilmore. “We got him to Omaha and we got him a national
championship. The senior class, the hard work in the fall, the
dedication of the guys who don’t play much. It doesn’t go unnoticed. It
was a full team effort the whole College World Series, and we got it
Alex Cunningham earned his first save, striking out Ryan Haug with a
full-count fastball to end the game after Arizona had pulled within one
in the bottom of the ninth. When Haug swung and missed, Cunningham
turned to his dugout, beat his chest with his fist three times and
saluted before flipping his glove away to start the celebration.
“The running joke is that in high school I lost the state
championship three times in a row. I was not going to lose this one, I
promise you that,” Cunningham said.
The championship was the first in a team sport in the 33-year history
of the Big South Conference. The Big South could savor the
accomplishment for only about eight hours. The Chanticleers become
members of the Sun Belt Conference today.
“This program has been a lot better than people give it credit for,”
Gilmore said. “They thought we played in a small conference and couldn’t
get this done. This bunch wanted to prove everybody wrong.”