For the first time in school history, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are national champions. Their baseball team defeated the Arizona Wildcats 4-3 on Thursday afternoon in Game 3 of the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, per SportsCenter:
Alex Cunningham had never saved a game in 41 collegiate appearances with the Chanticleers, but he did so Thursday by pitching the final three innings, allowing one run and striking out just one.
It was the biggest strikeout of his life, though, as it came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with runners on second and third as he got Ryan Haug swinging to end the series, as NCAA Baseball tweeted:
Cunningham was slated to start Game 3 on Wednesday night, but inclement weather forced the postponement of the decisive affair until Thursday. It gave Coastal Carolina's ace, Andrew Beckwith, an extra day of rest, which was enough to give him the start.
Things began as a pitcher's duel between Beckwith and Arizona's Bobby Dalbec. Zeroes dominated the scoreboard for the first five innings, though both teams squandered big threats.
Arizona's Cody Ramer hit a one-out single in the third inning that went under the glove of right fielder Connor Owings, allowing him to advance to third. But Ramer was thrown out at home with one out when he tried to score on a Zach Gibbons ground ball.
It was a close play at the plate, as Tucson News Now showed:
Coastal Carolina put a runner on second with one out in the fifth, but it couldn't plate a run either.
The Chanticleers hit paydirt in the sixth inning thanks to Arizona's miscues in the field. After Dalbec walked David Parrett and Michael Paez, Owings struck out. However, the pitch went wild and the runners advanced to second and third.
Arizona looked like it got out of the jam when Zach Remillard hit a grounder to Ramer at second base, but he couldn't wrangle the chance, and Parrett scored. Ramer proceeded to throw the ball away when trying to throw Paez out at third, which allowed him to score as well.
It got worse for Ramer and Arizona when G.K. Young smashed a two-run shot in the next at-bat to put Coastal Carolina up 4-0. Dalbec was out of the game one batter later. NCAA Baseball showed the home run:
Arizona halved its deficit in the bottom of the sixth when Jared Oliva came up with the bases loaded and singled home a pair of runs, as NCAA Baseball illustrated:
That was the end of Beckwith's day. Cunningham took the ball for the final three innings and clinched the title for the Chanticleers. The game had some ninth-inning drama, though, as Arizona pushed for a walk-off win.
After a one-out walk to Louis Boyd, Ramer smashed a single down the right field line to put runners on first and third. A sacrifice fly from Gibbons made it a one-run game, but it left Arizona with one out left to work with while Ramer remained on first.
Ryan Aguilar kept the Wildcats alive with a double that just hit the chalk down the left field line. But Anthony Marks played the carom in the corner and prevented Ramer from scoring the tying run.
It's a monumental day for Coastal Carolina, which delivered a championship to manager Gary Gilmore. He had spent 21 years at the school without making it to Omaha. This is the best reward for him and the program that anyone could have asked for.
An emotional moment for Gilmore became even more so when he mentioned his father, per SportsCenter:
Given the school's history, he realized this was one of the more improbable sports stories of the year, per Jim Dunaway of WIAT 42 CBS:
For the hero Young, who delivered the big blow, it was a dream come true for a player who grew up just minutes from the Coastal Carolina campus, per Baseball America's Michael Lananna:
While he managed to keep it together for his interview, Young now has an opportunity to display his full range of emotions in celebrating the school's first national championship.
For such a momentous win, no one can blame him.