Before arriving at the game 20 years in the making, Gary Gilmore laughed about the batting cage at Coastal Carolina. It was “unusable” when he returned to his alma mater as baseball coach in 1996.
“And it was just kind of a different mindset,” he added. “Just to give you an idea …”
Gilmore recalled a player explaining why he couldn’t attend a Saturday morning practice. “I go, ‘Huh? What do you mean you can’t be at practice?’ ‘Well, I’m a bartender down here at the beach and by the time I get off, I won’t be able to make it to practice at 9 a.m.’
“I said, ‘Well, you have to make a choice, young man. We’re going to play baseball here.'”
Thursday at 1 p.m. ET, CCU will play for the national championship.
Gilmore’s long, winding road to Omaha has reached its final destination — a winner-take-all game for the College World Series title.
After a three-hour weather delay Wednesday night, the deciding Game 3 at TD Ameritrade Park was postponed. But what’s one more day?
After 21 seasons, 846 victories, 14 NCAA Tournaments, 3 Super Regionals and 1 CWS, Gilmore’s Chanticleers will play for the first NCAA Division I championship in school history.
CCU (54-18) also will try to become the first team to win the CWS in its debut since Minnesota in 1956.
“They just keep believing that this is their destiny,” Gilmore said Tuesday night after CCU’s 5-4 victory forced a third game.
And why not? The Chanticleers were down to their last strike in the NCAA Regionals. They beat LSU in the Super Regionals on a ninth-inning walk-off. They have won four elimination games in the CWS.
They also have their ace in the hole. Andrew Beckwith, who has pitched two complete-game victories in the CWS, is available to start Game 3. He beat TCU 4-1 on Friday, throwing 136 pitches five days after facing down No. 1 Florida, 2-1.
Instead of Beckwith, Gilmore thrust reliever Mike Morrison into the starting role for Tuesday night’s Game 2. Arizona, which beat CCU 3-0 in Monday night’s Game 1, took a 1-0 lead against Morrison in the first inning.
It could have been more, but CCU escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam. Morrison picked off Cody Ramer at third base in the game’s first turning point. Bobby Dalbec followed with a single that scored one run instead of two. CCU was out of the inning one out later with no further damage.
Morrison handcuffed Arizona thereafter, allowing two runs and six hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks on 103 pitches in 6.2 innings.
“Mike is unbelievable,” Anthony Marks told WPDE after the game. “You can’t say enough about that workhorse. It’s so much fun to watch him because you know what you’re gonna get out of him every night.”
Marks could say the same for himself. The team’s sparkplug went 3 for 4 with a run and 2 RBIs and delivered CCU’s first big hit in the third inning. Arizona shortstop Louis Boyd dropped a popup in shallow left field, giving CCU runners on second and third with one out instead of a runner on third with two outs. Marks followed with a single that gave the Chanticleers a 2-1 lead.
After Arizona tied the game at 2 in the seventh, Marks scored CCU’s first run in a 3-run eighth that gave the Chanticleers a 5-2 lead. Arizona scored twice off reliever Bobby Holmes in the bottom of the eighth. Holmes settled down in the ninth, retiring the side in order for the save.
Now the season is down to one game. How will Gilmore get the Chanticleers ready for the biggest game of their lives?
“Try to make it not be that,” he said. “I keep telling them it’s just another ball game, it’s just a baseball game. We have to play and execute. … Relax like we normally do and just make it be fun.
“You see how people play in the Super Bowl, they make it so much bigger than life and do dumb things and play out of character. I just want us to play in character. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”