The College World Series finals between Arizona and Coastal Carolina is the championship matchup that nobody predicted.
The Wildcats (48-22) and the Chanticleers (53-17) will meet in a best-of-three series starting Monday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Game 1 will be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET.
Both teams overcame huge odds in emerging from the loser's bracket to reach the championship round. Head coach Jay Johnson's Arizona team registered back-to-back wins over Oklahoma State to win its bracket, while Gary Gilmore's Coastal Carolina squad did the same in getting the best of TCU in consecutive victories Friday and Saturday.
There are a lot of similarities between these two teams, and both head coaches will try to cobble together a pitching plan for Game 1 of the series. When Johnson and Gilmore met the media in a press conference Sunday, neither man had determined which pitchers would take the mound or how long starters and relievers would pitch.
That's because both pitching staffs are relatively spent after the rigors of getting through last week's College World Series demands.
“We’ve played three days in a row, and (it’s) no secret we’ve burnt up a lot of guys to get here,” Gilmore told Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star. “So we’ll try to figure it out.”
Johnson expressed a similar sentiment in explaining Arizona's pitching dilemma.
The Chanticleers were 7-7 during the season's initial phase, and they looked nothing like a championship team. Arizona faced low expectations in the Pac-12. Both have earned their spots in the championship series.
"You can't predict or even explain how a team can come together, but this one has," Johnson told Ryan McGee of ESPN.com. "And I think the lack of expectations from others might have been part of the glue that brought this team together."
The Wildcats are battle-tested, as they have won six elimination games to this point. The Chanticleers made it to the CWS for the first time in 22 years, and this is their first finals appearance.
Arizona will depend on Zach Gibbons, Cody Ramer and Ryan Aguilar to come though in the championship round. Gibbons is hitting .387 with a .468 on-base percentage, and he has driven in 46 runs this season. Ramer is batting .340 with a .479 slugging percentage, while Aguilar is the team's best power hitter, as he has pounded eight home runs with 53 RBI while slugging .495.
The Chanticleers are led by their Big Three of Connor Owings, Zach Remillard and G.K. Young. Owings is leading the team with a .364 batting average and has belted 16 home runs, while Remillard has a .348 average with 19 homers and 72 RBI. Young has also been hitting the ball well with his .340 average and 17 home runs.
Both teams have spent pitching staffs, so Johnson and Gilmore will have to attack with their bullpens in this game. If either coach can find a pitcher who can string three or more innings together, it could be the difference in this game.
The Wildcats and Chanticleers have shown a relentless attitude during the College World Series, and a one- or two-run deficit is not likely to slow down either team.
Game 1 should be decided in the eighth or ninth inning, and the Wildcats appear to have the savvy to go along with their relentlessness to pull out the first game of the series.
Final Score: Arizona 5, Coastal Carolina 4