In college sports, we love a "Cinderella story." And Arizona and Coastal Carolina being the last two teams standing in Omaha is a compelling enough Cinderella story.
The Wildcats were picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12, a conference who hosted no Regionals this year. The Chanticleers are the first team from the unheralded Big South conference to advance to the final round of the CWS.
But this baseball fairy tale got even more interesting Tuesday night when Coastal took down Arizona in Game 2 and forced a deciding Game 3.
Oh, and that will be only the seventh Game 3 since the introduction of the championship series format in 2003.
History sides with the Wildcats, as four of the previous six Game 3 have gone to the Game 1 winner. But don't count out the Chanticleers; they've been blazing trails all year.
Coastal Carolina became the first team to sweep mighty LSU at Alex Box Stadium in the Super Regional round and the first Big South team to make the College World Series. Coastal head coach Gary Gilmore won his first national coach of the year award in his 20th season with the Chants.
They're used to doing new things.Arizona, on the other hand, is hoping to repeat history. The Cats are Omaha vets, currently in the middle of their 17th College World Series appearance. And they have a championship pedigree. Arizona has been in the final round of the CWS seven times, going back to 1956, and took home their fourth championship trophy just a few years ago in 2012.
The most recent CWS champs show a path either team could follow. Vanderbilt won the 2014 CWS Finals after taking Game 1 and Game 3 from Virginia. And the Cavaliers got their revenge in 2015 taking Games 2 & 3 from the Commodores to win the program's first national title.You have to go back a bit further in College World Series history for the champion most comparable to a Game 3-winning Coastal Carolina, but there is a historical precedent.
In 2008, No. 8 Georgia took Game 1 of the CWS Finals against Fresno State, but it was the WAC's Bulldogs who would take Games 2 & 3 to win their sole NCAA Baseball Championship and only the third NCAA title in Fresno State athletics history.
But, if we've learned anything from these two small-ball-playing, bunt-friendly, unlikely CWS Finals foes, it's to expect the unexpected.