Mike Morrison has been Coastal Carolina's closer for the past four years. On Tuesday night, he went boldly where he's never gone before, pitching 6.2 innings while striking out 10 in the Chanticleers' 5-4 win over Arizona in Game 2 of the College World Series from Omaha, Nebraska.
He was unable to get the win, though, as he was entrenched in a pitcher's duel with Arizona's Kevin Ginkel for much of the game's first seven innings. Coastal Carolina needed three runs in the top of the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie, which was just enough to force a decisive Game 3 with a national championship on the line.
Arizona struck first in the bottom of the first after the Wildcats put runners on first and third with two outs.
Bobby Dalbec hit a hot shot to third base that ate up Zach Remillard and trickled into left field, scoring Zach Gibbons from third, as shared by NCAA Baseball:
Coastal Carolina came up with its first runs of the final series in the top of the third thanks to a big Arizona miscue in the field.
It looked as though the Chanticleers might have wasted a big opportunity after Billy Cooke singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and then made it to third on a sacrifice bunt for the first out of the inning.
With the tying run on third, Kevin Woodall Jr. popped out to the shallow outfield where shortstop Louis Boyd was unable to make the catch. While Cooke was unable to head home, Woodall managed to slide in safely to second. Next man up Anthony Marks singled up the middle to score two and give Coastal Carolina the lead:
It was the first time in five games at Omaha that there was a lead change, much to the delight of ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee:
Arizona threatened in the bottom of the fourth as it put runners on second and third with one out. But Morrison struck out Justin Behnke and Boyd to leave the Wildcats stranded.
The bottom of the fifth was more kind to Arizona, as it found a way to tie the game. With one out and runners on the corners, Ryan Aguilar hit a chopper up the middle that was too slow for Coastal Carolina to turn a double play and allowed Gibbons to score his second run of the game.
After six-and-a-half innings, Ginkel's and Morrison's numbers were almost identical with 10 strikeouts apiece as runs continued to be at a premium.
Such dominating performances were extremely rare at the College World Series, per Ari Alexander of KVOA News:
But Ginkel was done after his seven innings, while Morrison was pulled after getting the first two batters out in the seventh inning as his pitch count swelled to 103. He never threw more than 83 pitches before Tuesday night, but it was a brilliant end to the senior's career at Coastal Carolina as NCAA Baseball showed his exit:
With Cameron Ming in for Arizona, Coastal Carolina took the lead after Connor Owings drove in Marks from second with a bloop single he was able to muscle the other way.
Remillard followed it up with a laser beam of a double that traveled just over the glove of third baseman Dalbec to move Owings over to third.
Alfonso Rivas came in to try and limit the damage, but he couldn't as G.K. Young singled to right field, but was thrown out at second. That didn't matter much, though, as Coastal Carolina went up 5-2.
With six outs left, Arizona got to Bobby Holmes, Morrison's replacement, in the bottom of the eighth. Aguilar singled, and Holmes walked Dalbec and Cesar Salazar to put the tying runs on base with no outs.
Jared Oliva popped out to shortstop before Justin Behnke drove in one run on a fielder's choice. It looked like Holmes would get out of the inning with just the lone run when Boyd hit a grounder to Michael Paez, but the shortstop played the ball in between hops and wasn't able to cleanly field. It allowed Dalbec to score and make it a one-run game.
But the Arizona rally fell just short when Cody Ramer flew out to end the inning. Holmes' ninth inning was much-easier, retiring the side in order.
Now the focus shifts to Wednesday night's winner-take-all Game 3. While Arizona has history on its side, Coastal Carolina has the momentum and its ace Andrew Beckwith set to take the hill. The Wildcats on the other hand are unsure if ace Nathan Bannister will be able to pitch as he's battling an elbow injury.
If he's unable to go, Coastal Carolina will be favored to win its first-ever national championship on Wednesday.