Coastal Carolina baseball: Chanticleers College World Series win a triumph for the Carolinas
It all began on a Monday night in January. At the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the Clemson Tigers would take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
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Clemson has been one of the top college football programs in the country ever since Dabo Swinney’s arrival, but before 2015, they were something of a punchline. Search ‘Clemsoning’ on the internet, and see what pops up. The Tigers were always good, but when the moment called for it, could they ever be great?
No one is laughing at Clemson these days. But they’re still not the reigning national champions of the college football world.
The Tigers lost to the Tide, 45-40, but they certainly weren’t rolled by them. Clemson was in control for much of the game, and its star, Watson, threw for 405 yards and four touchdown passes.
“The nation saw tonight why we were so successful and they saw the heart of our team,” Swinney said after the game.
Clemson has a chance to re-capture glory in 2016; it has much of its offense returning. But a lot has to go right in order to win a national championship. And as heartbreaking as that loss was for Tiger faithful, things would only get more gruesome for the Carolinas as the NCAA calendar wore on.
Football rules in South Carolina, but basketball is king in North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels were eyeing their sixth NCAA tournament title in 2016, and it didn’t look like anything could stop them.
The Clemson script was flipped for this Carolina counterpart. The Tar Heels were the alpha dogs of the NCAA tournament; they were the only No. 1 seed to make it to the Final Four, and they did so in impressive fashion.
UNC had won every NCAA tournament game by 14 points or more going into its national title clash with Villanova. Going into the matchup, it felt quite a bit like Alabama vs. Clemson, but with the roles reversed.
The Tar Heels were the team with an embarrassment of riches and athleticism; Villanova, while supremely skilled in its own right, was the underdog.
And you probably know how that one ended.
"The worst part about a loss like this is I feel so inadequate, because I don't know how to make it better." Roy Williams said following the game. "I feel so proud of my team, but you really have to congratulate Villanova."
The Wildcats sunk the Tar Heels on one of the greatest shots in college basketball history. Two Carolina teams had forged epic runs to the pinnacle of their respective sports, and they fell just a bit short. Could the spring change the Carolinas’ fortunes?
Ever since Gary Gilmore accepted the Coastal Carolina head baseball coaching job in 1996, the Chanticleers have been very good. But up until 2016, they’d never won the big one. Heck, they’d never even been to the College World Series.
The eight-time Big South Coach of the Year was wondering if his team would ever form a dog pile in Omaha. Perhaps as a reflection of Gilmore’s journey in Conway, the Chanticleers would ultimately do so. But not without some twists and turns along the way.
Coastal Carolina played in six elimination games in the 2016 NCAA tournament. They won all six. From a late-inning comeback against North Carolina State in regionals to unlikely heroes stepping up in Omaha, it was fantastic to watch. But the final game encapsulated what Coastal Carolina had gone through all season long, and frankly, for the last 20 years.
It was Game 3 against Arizona, and Alex Cunningham took the hill for the Chanticleers in the ninth inning with a 5-2 lead.
The Wildcats quickly cut the deficit. After a few runners reached and Ryan Aguilar smacked a clutch double, Arizona had runners on second and third with two outs in a 5-4 game.
With Ryan Haug at the plate, the TD Ameritrade Park crowd was deafening. This is why we play baseball. In that moment, it was hard not to think of O.J. Howard running down the sidelines to shift Clemson’s momentum to Alabama. Or Ryan Arcidiacono dribbling up the court, flipping to Kris Jenkins and watching Villanova zap North Carolina’s title hopes in a pinch.
It's a great day to be a Chanticleer!https://t.co/xrWsYyr98V— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) July 1, 2016
The Chanticleers did it. It was a long time coming; not just for the Coastal baseball program, but for the Carolinas. The Clemson football team, for one, was pumped to see the Chanticleers win it all:
The Carolinas may have been hopeful for titles in football and basketball, but they left the NCAA calendar year with championships in baseball and lacrosse, as North Carolina won the Men's and Women's Lacrosse finals in thrilling fashion.
There are plenty of at-bats in a college baseball game, and as it turns out, a year in college athletics.