Coastal Carolina and Arizona took a similar path to the finals of the College Baseball World Series.
Coastal Carolina initially lost to TCU and slipped to the loser's bracket before beating the Horned Frogs twice. Arizona suffered the same initial fate against Oklahoma State before beating the Cowboys twice to earn its ticket to the final.
Now, the two teams will face off in the best-of-three series to determine the sport's national championship.
|College World Series Schedule|
|1||Monday, June 27||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|2||Tuesday, June 28||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|3 (if necessary)||Wednesday, June 29||8 p.m.||ESPN|
For Coastal Carolina, it's the team's first trip to the CWS. For Arizona, it's the chance to earn a fifth national title. For college baseball, the matchup is a bit of a surprise.
Coastal Carolina, for one, started the season rather slowly, as second baseman Tyler Chadwick noted.
"When we were 7-7 in March, I don't think we expected to be here, either," he told Ryan McGee of ESPN. "But thankfully, they don't choose who comes to Omaha based on February or March—or what people expected from us."
Many folks didn't expect the mid-major program to get out of a super regional with host LSU. Coastal Carolina pulled off a two-game sweep.
After losing once to TCU, many people probably doubted Coastal Carolina could beat them two times in a row. But ace Andrew Beckwith (14-1, 1.94 ERA) gave them nine innings of one-run ball on a whopping 137 pitches in game one, and Alex Cunningham (10-4, 3.64 ERA) gave them 6.1 solid innings before the bullpen finished off the Horned Frogs.
It's Coastal Carolina's bats that make them so dangerous, however, as Connor Owings (.364, 16 homers, 56 RBI), Zach Remillard (.348, 19 homers, 72 RBI), G.K. Young (.340, 17 homers, 68 RBI) and Michael Paez (.286, 15 homers, 52 RBI) all provide a wealth of pop for the team.
Arizona, meanwhile, was projected to finish ninth out of 11 teams by the Pac-12 coaches this season, per McGee. They finished third instead and survived a tough super regional with host Mississippi State. The team's chemistry, in part, has played a huge role in their ascension in college baseball this season.
"We love being together, and we want to keep going as long as we can," Arizona coach Jay Johnson told the Associated Press (via the Times Herald-Record). "The competitive side to it? I'd walk down an alley with those guys at 2 in the morning in the roughest part of the world, and we're going to come out of it fine."
Arizona has been led by the pitching trio of Nathan Bannister (12-2, 2.59 ERA), Bobby Dalbec (11-5, 2.65 ERA) and JC Cloney (7-4, 2.66 ERA), though Bannister had to leave his Friday start with tightness in his pitching arm, per McGee.
He's being reevaluated on Sunday, per Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star. If he's unable to go, it would be a major blow for the Wildcats, as he's been the team's ace all season long.
However, it's the Arizona offense that has really awoken. The Wildcats scored 14 runs in their last two games against Oklahoma State, and they are a talented group led by the dangerous Zach Gibbons (.387, 46 RBI, 42 runs and nine stolen bases).
Arizona is an incredibly balanced team, and losing Bannister early on Friday gave them a chance to show their bullpen depth and strength. Coastal Carolina will present a unique set of challenges for the Wildcats, but it's hard to find much that separates these two teams.
In other words, the CWS should conclude with a very tight, memorable finale.
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