The 2016 College World Series is down to two teams. They're just not the ones that anyone expected.
Arizona wasn't even expected to be one of the two best teams in its conference. Pac-12 coaches voted the Wildcats ninth in their preseason poll. Yet here they are, four wins in five games later, two wins away from a national championship in Omaha, Nebraska.
"You can't predict or even explain how a team can come together, but this one has," Arizona coach Jay Johnson said, per ESPN.com's Ryan McGee. "And I think the lack of expectations from others might have been part of the glue that brought this team together."
Even Arizona's trip to Omaha hasn't all been smooth sailing. The Wildcats dropped their second game 1-0 to Oklahoma State and had to work their way into the semifinal with a win over UC Santa Barbara. Oklahoma State posed no challenge the second time around, with Arizona sweeping the best-of-three series by a combined score of 14-4.
Coastal Carolina's trek was arguably even harder. The Chanticleers' first game in Omaha was against top-seeded Florida. They survived the Gators, only to drop their second game to TCU and face elimination against fifth-seeded Texas Tech. Coastal Carolina earned a 7-5 win in that elimination game and carried over its momentum to a sweep of TCU.
"It's kind of like I'm in a dream. I'm scared to pinch myself, to be quite honest," coach Gary Gilmore said, per Eric Olson of the Associated Press. "Coming from where I started 21 years ago, and where our university was and where we're at today and on this stage is one of the most incredible things I could imagine."
The result is a CWS final that appears evenly matched. Coastal Carolina is powered by its bats, sitting third nationally in runs scored and first in home runs.
"We pride ourselves on being relentless and getting it done when people are in scoring position," first baseman Tyler Chadwick said, per Olson. "For us to be the team we want to be, the team we've been all year, we have to hit 1 through 9."
|1||Monday, June 27||7 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|2||Tuesday, June 28||8 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|3 (if necessary)||Wednesday, June 29||8 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
Coastal Carolina managed to keep things together early on despite its offense struggling a bit. Through the first two games, the offense scored three runs. They have averaged a solid six per game since.
Arizona isn't so shabby itself. The Wildcats are 40th in runs scored, mostly manufacturing their offense via base hits rather than long bombs. Their pitching staff also ranks a solid 27th in earned run average, four spots ahead of Coastal Carolina.
On paper, the Chanticleers are a better team. They score more runs, have more power hitters and don't have a big disadvantage on the mound. Their head-to-head matchup becomes far more even when you consider Arizona spent its season battling Pac-12 competition while Coastal Carolina was beating up on the Big South.
Either way, this stands out as one of the unlikeliest finals in recent memory. Given the strange road both teams took to get here, anything less than a three-game thriller would be a disappointment.