OMAHA, Neb.: Coastal Carolina’s incredible postseason run isn’t over yet.
Connor Owings’ bloop RBI single sparked a three-run eighth inning, and the Chanticleers beat Arizona 5-4 on Tuesday night to send the College World Series finals to a deciding Game 3.
Mike Morrison was sensational in his first start of the season, helping the Chanticleers rebound from a 3-0 loss to the Wildcats in the opener. The teams meet again Wednesday night for the national championship.
“That was a whole lot of emotion going on out there, and it’s hard to describe it, having not been in that position before in my life,” said Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore, whose program is in the CWS for the first time. “Our guys kept breathing pretty good, and we got through it.”
The Chanticleers staved off elimination for the fourth time in the CWS and fifth time in the NCAA Tournament, but not before some nervous moments in the eighth inning, when their three-run lead was cut to one.
“One thing we always talk about is the team that deserves to win usually will,” Wildcats coach Jay Johnson said. “In this case, it was Coastal. They were a little bit better with runners on base tonight and wiggled out of some jams. So we’ll dust off and get ready for tomorrow.”
The Chanticleers from Conway, S.C., will play the winner-take-all game for their school’s first national championship in any sport.
Arizona is going for its fifth national title in baseball, and second since 2012, in a season when it was picked to be one of the bottom teams in the Pac-12 in Johnson’s first year.
“It’s going to be a very exciting opportunity — two very good teams that have been playing well down the stretch,” Owings said. “You can’t write it better than it is right now.”
Owings was batting .125 (3-for-24) in the CWS when he stepped to the plate against Cameron Ming in the eighth. The Big South player of the year fought off a high inside pitch, sending it into short left field to drive in Anthony Marks from second base with the go-ahead run.
“I hit a couple of balls on the barrel and get out three times,” Owings said, “and the pitcher makes a great pitch up and in the top of the zone, I fist myself and end up putting us ahead in the national championship.”
After Zach Remillard chased Ming (3-3) with a double, G.K. Young followed with a two-run single off Alfonso Rivas to give the Chanticleers a three-run lead.
Arizona (49-23) made it a one-run game in the bottom half after Bobby Holmes (7-2) walked two straight to load the bases with none out. One run came home on Justin Behnke’s groundout, and another scored when shortstop Michael Paez bobbled Louis Boyd’s routine grounder.
Gilmore said Holmes let the pressure of pitching in the finals get to him.
“He was out of sync, not taking any breaths and just slinging the ball all over the place,” Gilmore said. “We were lucky to get out of that.”
Holmes pitched a perfect ninth, and Coastal Carolina improved to 50-1 when leading after eight innings.
With Coastal Carolina (54-18) running low on pitching, Gilmore turned to Morrison, his senior closer, to start a game for the third time in his career. Morrison responded with career highs of 6? innings, 103 pitches and 10 strikeouts. He allowed six hits and two runs and left to a loud ovation from the teal-clad Chanticleers fans.
“I put my heart and soul into this program for four years, and to end it like that, that was special,” Morrison said. “That standing ovation was probably the coolest thing that’s ever going to happen in my entire life.”
Arizona starter Kevin Ginkel was just as good, striking out a career-high 10 in seven innings. He allowed two runs and five hits.
“He was spectacular tonight and gave us everything he could and everything we needed,” Johnson said.