OMAHA–For his entire career at Coastal Carolina, Gary Gilmore dreamed of getting to the College World Series. To many, it seemed like a pipe dream when he first arrived in 1995, but Gilmore kept hammering away, building his alma mater into a power.
This year, the Chanticleers finally broke through, reaching Omaha for the first time in program history. But they weren't done yet. Coastal beat Florida, the No. 1 national seed, Sunday in its opening game. It lost its next game to Texas Christian, falling into the losers' bracket. But the Chanticleers fought their way out. Coastal eliminated Texas Tech on Thursday, then beat TCU on Friday to force a second bracket championship game Saturday.
Again, Coastal wouldn't be denied. The Chanticleers took an early lead and never gave it up, going on to defeat the Horned Frogs, 7-5. With the victory, Coastal (53-17) advanced to the finals, where it will face Arizona in a three-game series beginning Monday.
|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: Already up 3-1, the Chanticleers broke the game open in the fourth inning, scoring four runs. Both Anthony Marks and Zach Remillard hit RBI singles, and Connor Owings hit a two-run double to push the lead to 7-1. The Horned Frogs kept chipping away, but that lead proved too steep.
The Hero: It was a team effort for the Chanticleers on Saturday, as they combined for 12 hits and five different players drove in at least one run. Second baseman Tyler Chadwick, however, started the scoring with a home run in the second inning and also singled and doubled in a 3-for-4 showing. Chadwick entered the game hitting 3-for-21 in the postseason.
You Might Have Missed: Coastal Carolina righthander Alex Cunningham gave the Chanticleers much-needed length on the mound, pitching into the seventh inning. He allowed four runs late to allow TCU to make a game of it, but he kept them off the board as Coastal Carolina built an early 3-0 lead, and pitching into the seventh was imperative for a team that has emptied its bullpen throughout the week.
Gilmore had dreamed of Omaha. But playing for the national championship? Even his dreams weren't that wild.
"I'm scared to pinch myself, to be very honest with you," Gilmore said. "I mean, coming from where I started 21 years ago and where our university was at that point in time and where we're at today, to know that we're on this stage is one of the most incredible things I could have ever imagined. I don't know if I've ever dreamt this far, to be honest with you."
But these Chanticleers have made those incredible dreams a reality. Starting Monday, Coastal will play for a Division I national championship in any sport for the first time in school history.
Though the Chanticleers have never made it this far before, they are an older, experienced team. And, with much of the team playing together for three or four years, they have developed a tight bond and play off each other's strengths.
"Like you saw today, that's the team we've been all year," DH G.K. Young said. "We've picked each other up and we've had those big hits that we needed to get when we needed them. And it worked out today."
With the victory, Coastal became the first team to win four games in its CWS debut since South Carolina in 1975. The Chanticleers might be new to this stage, but TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said they aren't playing like it.
"By no means are they a Cinderella," Schlossnagle said. "You don't win 53 games and be Cinderella. You're a really good team that can win a national title."
Coastal got off to a hot start Saturday, taking the early lead on a solo home run from Tyler Chadwick in the second inning. The Chanticleers added two more in the third and broke the game open with a four-run fourth inning.
Coastal pounded out 12 hits, including five that went for extra bases. Chadwick went 3-for-4 and scored two runs, falling a triple shy of the cycle.
The Chanticleers have seemingly found a new source of offense every game during the CWS. Saturday, it was Chadwick's turn, and he said the key to Coastal's success this season has been the strength of all nine hitters in its lineup.
"We pride ourselves hitting, being selfless and relentless in everything we do," Chadwick said. "Being selfless when we're at the bunt, and being relentless when we get people in scoring position and getting it done."
Coastal led throughout the game, but TCU (49-18) kept chipping away at the deficit and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning. But righthander Bobby Holmes got Michael Landestoy to ground into a double play to end the game and set off the Chanticleers' celebration.
For TCU, the loss ended a somewhat improbable run of its own. The Horned Frogs reached the CWS for the third year in a row, despite losing most of the core that led it to Omaha the previous two years.
TCU grew over the course of the year and came to Omaha playing its best baseball of the year. For Schlossnagle, that made Saturday's loss even tougher to take.
"(I'm) as disappointed as I've ever been leaving this great city," Schlossnagle said. "Because we had the club to win this thing."
Instead, it will be Coastal playing for the national championship. The Chanticleers might not be Cinderellas, but they are in uncharted territory. Throughout the postseason they have thrived in unfamiliar environments, coming back from a ninth-inning deficit in a regional championship game suspended by rain, taming Louisiana State's Alex Box Stadium in super regionals and coming out of the loser's bracket in Omaha.
After fighting through that path, Gilmore said the Chanticleers are right where they should be.
"I can't be happier for a group of young men," Gilmore said. "Honestly, they deserve this. They played well enough to be where they're at."