Coastal Carolina holds off Arizona to force winner-take-all Game 3
2016 College World Series Finals Game 2: Coastal Carolina 5, Arizona 4.
Facing elimination for the fourth time in the 2016 College World Series, Coastal Carolina responded exactly how they did the first three times, prolonging their first trip to Omaha with a 5-4 win over the Arizona Wildcats to force Game 3 for all the marbles on Wednesday night.
“What an incredible baseball game. Man alive,” Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore said after his team once again fought off elimination to move one win away from their first national championship in program history. “There was a whole lot of emotion going on out there. It’s really hard to describe not having ever been in that particular situation in my life. It was kind of nerve-racking at times, ,but I think our guys kept breathing pretty good and we got through it.”
Some lineup tinkering paid off for the Chanticleers on Tuesday night as Anthony Marks moved into the lead off spot in the lineup. He responded by reaching base four times in five plate appearances. He drove in a pair of runs and scored an important one himself in the top of the eighth inning.
2016 Big South Player of the Year Connor Owings also jumped up a spot in the lineup, going from clean-up to the three-hole. He made it count with perhaps the biggest hit of the entire CWS. His bloop single over Arizona third baseman Bobby Dalbec with one out in the top of the eighth inning drove in Marks to put Coastal Carolina in the lead for good.
“I thought it was a great college baseball game,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said. “Two teams with good players going at it. Got to tip your hat to them. One thing we always talk about is the team that deserves to win usually will, and in that case it was Coastal. They were a little bit better with runners on base tonight, and wiggled out of some jams.”
As they have for most of their games in the College World Series, Arizona scratched across a run in the first inning once again, despite some disastrous attempts at moving runners over with the bunt.
Second baseman Cody Ramer and right fielder Zach Gibbons started off the bottom of the inning with consecutive base hits to center field. After designated hitter JJ Matijevic struck out on three straight bunt attempts, first baseman Ryan Aguilar drew a walk to load the bases against Coastal Carolina closer-turned-starting pitcher Mike Morrison.
The Wildcats then put on a squeeze play to try to get the first run to the plate, but third baseman Bobby Dalbec pulled his bat back on the bunt, leaving Ramer and Gibbons in no man’s land. The Chanticleers caught Ramer as he was heading back to third, but Gibbons got back to second just in time to break up the potential inning-ending double play. Dalbec immediately atoned for the mishap when he scorched a ball down the line that ate up Zach Remillard at third base. As the ball trickled into left field, Gibbons rounded third and scored to give Arizona a 1-0 lead.
Entering Game 2, teams scoring first at the 2016 College World Series were 13-2 overall, including wins in 11 straight games, but Coastal Carolina had an early answer for that.
After going six up and six down to start the game against Arizona starter Kevin Ginkel, center fielder Billy Cooke began the third inning with a base hit to give the Chanticleers their first base runner of the night. A wild pitch moved Cooke into scoring position, and a two-base error on a dropped pop fly by shortstop Louis Boyd put two men in scoring position with one out as the lineup turned over. Anthony Marks came through with the big hit, ripping a hot shot passed Boyd and into center field. Cooke scored easily from third, and catcher David Parrett followed him home from second to put Coastal Carolina in front, 2-1.
Cody Ramer and Zach Gibbons were again the catalysts as Arizona evened things up in the fifth inning. Ramer led off with a five-pitch walk, and Gibbons followed up with a base hit on the first pitch he saw to move Ramer from first to third. With one out, Ryan Aguilar sent a high chopper up the middle. Coastal Carolina second baseman Tyler Chadwick’s only play was a flip to his shortstop at second base, allowing Ramer to score the tying run.
The Wildcats started to run out of gas on the mound in the eighth, and Coastal Carolina didn’t squander the opportunity to open up a lead. Anthony Marks kicked things off with a base hit to lead off the inning as part of his 3-for-4 night at the plate. He moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt, then came home to score on a bloop single over the third baseman’s head by senior right fielder Connor Owings that gave the Chanticleers a 3-2 lead.
A double down the left field line by Zach Remillard men in scoring position for G.K. Young, who promptly drove both runs in to push the lead to 5-2 on a sharp ground ball that got by Ryan Aguilar who was playing even with the bag at first base.
The go-ahead hit was only the fourth hit in 25 at-bats in Omaha for the reigning Big South Player of the Year, but it could not have come in a bigger situation for Coastal Carolina.
“I always had confidence in myself,” Owings said. “I had a couple good swings throughout the tournament, been hitting some balls hard just nothing really going my way. Baseball is a crazy game. I hit a couple balls on the barrel, and get out three times. A pitcher makes a great pitch up and in the top of the zone, I fist myself, and end up putting us ahead in the national championship.”
Arizona responded with two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to make things interesting, but the late rally eventually fell short.
Coastal Carolina senior Mike Morrison and Arizona junior Kevin Ginkel matched each other on the mound. Morrison allowed two runs on six hits while striking out 10 batters over six and 2/3 innings. Ginkel scattered five hits over seven innings while also giving up two runs and striking 10 men. Both tied a College World Series record for strikeouts in a Finals game.
The difference on the mound was the performances out of the bullpen — Arizona’s Cameron Ming allowed three runs on three hits in a third of an inning, while Coastal Carolina’s Bobby Holmes overcame some control issues to hold off the Wildcats in the eighth before retiring the side in order in the ninth.
“I’m no stranger to adversity,” Holmes said. “I’m almost more comfortable in those situations than with a 3-1 lead. The eighth inning I don’t think I took a breath the whole time. I had to regroup in the dugout and tell myself I was going to be all right.”
“I think the pitchness, sharpness, everything was back to normal in the ninth. I don’t know what it is. I guess some people are made for the bullpen. I guess I am one of those guys.”
Coastal Carolina appeared loose and excited in the post-game. Something that might help make their head coach’s job a little easier when it comes to getting them in the right frame of mind to play for a national championship on Wednesday night.
“I already told them I’m going to be the first one off the bus, and I’m going to go to the hotel and tell parents and all these crazy people staying at our place that the players are going to bed at a certain time, and they’re not going to watch replays of themselves and all that mess, because it is a big game,” Gilmore said.
“If you make it bigger than life, we’ve not done that through this entire thing. I keep telling them every time we meet: it’s just another baseball game. It’s just a baseball game. We have to play and execute.”
The mood was not the same in the Arizona locker room after the game. But for his part, Wildcat head coach Jay Johnson didn’t seem concerned about his team’s readiness for the most important game of the season.
“It’s why I wake up every day,” he said. “That’s why I’ve woken up every day for the last 11 to 15 years, is for something like tomorrow night. Our players are no different. We’ll get a good plan and regroup. I’m excited. I wish it was 7:00 on Wednesday right now. It will be an exciting 24 hours getting ready. One thing we do is prepare well. We’ll use it wisely and be ready to go.”
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