Thursday, June 30, 2016

Chanticleers rule the roost in college baseball

Words can''t really to justice to what Coastal Carolina has accomplished by winning the 2016 NCAA College World Series, but I'll give it a try anyway.

The Chanticleers completed their epic season with a 4-3 win over Arizona Thursday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

Coach Gary Gilmore's squad showed a balance of power, speed, pitching and defense to claim the first NCAA championship in school history.

Look at the high the program is experiencing today after going through a low just two months ago.
 The Chanticleers went to Atlanta the final weekend in April looking to solidify its prospects of hosting as regional by winning a series at Georgia Tech and silencing those who scoffed at a Big South Conference school's likelihood of being a No. 1 seed for a regional.

But Coastal was swept in three games, including the Saturday game when Georgia Tech scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win.

Instead of being demoralized by the loss the Chanticleers were galvanized. They closed the season on a 9-1 run and rolled through the Big South Conference Tournament.

The strong finish heading into the NCAA Tournament and a top 16 RPI didn't translate into an NCAA regional host role, however. The Chanticleers went to Raleigh on a mission. In a rain-plagued regional Coastal was within one out of losing 5-3 in the title game before another rain delay caused the game to be suspended until the next day.

Coastal rallied for four runs in the ninth to win, 7-5, and advance to a Super Regional at Baton Rouge. The Chanticleers survived the rowdy environment at LSU to sweep the series and advance to Omaha. and the College World Series.

The Chanticleers announced their arrival to any remaining skeptics by beating No. 1 seed Florida, 2-1, in their CWS opener. They lost to TCU, 6-1, to fall into the loser's bracket, but fought back. They eliminated Texas Tech, then beat TCU on back-to-back days to  reach the best-of-three title series against Arizona.

Coastal lost the series opener 3-0 -- only its second shutout of the year -- then evened the series with a 5-4 win in Game 2. After a rainout Wednesday, the Chanticleers took advantage of  two Arizona errors on one play in the sixth inning on Thursday to take a lead they never relinquished.

Gilmore and his staff did a masterful job of plugging the right people into the right situation at the right time: juggling roles and starters and relievers as needed.  It should be noted that Coastal played the CWS without second baseman Seth Lancaster, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Super Regional at LSU.

Lancaster, from Hanahan, was one of several South Carolinians who were instrumental in the national championship run. Others included pitcher Alex Cunningham (Byrnes), Gilbert High teammates Mike Morrison and Connor Owings and Conway native G.K. Young.

The win was the 1,100th of Gilmore's career. He had passed up chances to attend the CWS until one of his teams got him there. He was doing an ineffective job of fighting back tears during his postgame interview on ESPNU. That might have been the only time he failed to accomplish what he wanted to do during his stint in Omaha.

I became convinced the Coastal program was good enough to be a player on the national level during the 2010 season, when it went toe-to-toe with eventual national champion South Carolina before coming up short in the Super Regional. Chanticleers fans would say - correctly - I was late to the party. Coastal ranks among the nation's leaders in baseball victories since 2000.

The addition of Springs Brooks Stadium for the 2015 season finally gave the program an on-campus venue worthy of the program's status.

Coastal Carolina's athletics teams moved from the Big South to the Sun Belt at midnight tonight. On their final day of membership, the Chanticleers gave the Big South Conference its first team national championship.

Online commentators likened Coastal's feat to CWS titles by Fresno State, Pepperdine and Rice. Personally, I think Coastal's  accomplishment tops those because of the general national perception of the Big South.

The Chanticleers' run to glory unified baseball fans in the Palmetto State like few other things could.

Without trying to stir up political passions, I think it's appropriate to quote Gov. Nikki Haley's famous saying:

It's a great day in South Carolina!

No comments: