We don't normally cover anything outside the realm of football, but given the circumstances, this is the exception.
Arizona Wildcats (48-22) versus Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (53-17) in the College World Series Championship Series, a best two of three series for the NCAA Division 1 Baseball National Championship
Game 1, Monday June 27th at 7:00 PM ET
Game 2, Tuesday June 28th at 8:00 PM ET
Game 3, Wednesday, June 29th at 8:00 PM ET (if necessary)
Location: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Nebraska
TV/Streaming: All three games will be on ESPN and WatchESPN.com
How Did Both Teams Get Here?
The Wildcats and Chanticleers both took a long road to Omaha that ended up being remarkably similar.
The Chants, the 2-seed in the Raleigh Regional, beat #3 St Mary's in the opening game before knocking off the hosts #1 NC State in a game beset by rain. Then in the regional finals, the Wolfpack won 8-1 to force a winner-take-all game where the game was postponed with the Chants down 5-4 in the top ninth. Upon resumption the next day, CCU shocked everyone by scoring three runs and taking the 7-5 win and regional title.
In Super Regionals, CCU traveled to "The Box" in Baton Rouge to face LSU. After taking a wild 11-8 win in the first game, the Chants came back from a devastating top ninth blown lead to walk-off the Tigers and punch their ticket to Omaha and the College World Series.
CCU opened the CWS with a 2-1 win over overall #1 Florida before falling 6-1 to TCU. After eliminating Texas Tech 7-5, Coastal then had to beat TCU twice, 4-1 and 7-5 to advance to the finals. Not bad for your first trip to Omaha.
Arizona were also a 2-seed, being sent to the Lafayette Regional. After beating #3 Sam Houston State 7-3, the Wildcats fell to #1 UL-Lafayette 10-3. Zona eliminated SHSU 6-5 before beating the Cajuns twice, 6-3 and 3-1, to win the Lafayette Regional.
Super Regionals saw Zona pull out more one-run stunners, beating Mississippi State 1-0 and 6-5 in a 11th-inning walk-off (after being down 5-1 in the 8th) to advance to Omaha.
After upsetting Miami (Fl) 5-1 in their opening game, the Wildcats took a 1-0 loss to Oklahoma State. The rebound saw UofA take out another underdog in UC Santa Barbara 3-0 before dispatching the Cowboys 9-3 and 5-1 to advance to the finals.
What's The Narrative?
In a season dominated by the ACC, SEC and to a lesser degree the Big 12 where there weren't any dominant mid majors or west coast teams, the finals pitch a mid major and a west coast team. The ACC and SEC hosted 13 of the 16 Regionals and hosted 7 of the 8 Super Regionals and in the end, one school from each conference got to Omaha and both went 0-2.
Coastal Carolina was slated to have a really good year, but this might not even be their best team of the last several years. Gary Gilmore, CCU Class of 1980, has been in charge of the Chanticleers since 1997. Gilmore has taken CCU into one of the premiere mid-major programs in college baseball, but had never made it to Omaha before this season. Winning the Big South regular season and tournament were expected, going this far wasn't.
If Coastal wasn't expected here, Arizona really wasn't expected here. Despite having a storied history including four National Titles and 16 CWS appearances, the Wildcats were bringing in a new head coach in Jay Johnson, who had just two years of head coach experience at Nevada. The uncertainty led voters to place Arizona 9th out of 11 teams pre-season in the Pac 12 and Zona somewhat-defied those expectations by finishing in a tie for third at 16-14, although they were only two games out of ninth.
What To Look For
In college baseball ever since the move to composite bats, pitching, good defense and timely hitting, in that order, have been the hallmarks of championship teams. You can't really slug your way to a title like teams use to do in the aluminum bat days.
Looking at the head to head, you probably would put Coastal as the favorite. However, both teams have shown the intangibles needed to win so far. Pitching match-ups haven't been announced as of writing this, but both teams have it in spades.
Let's be honest, we're jumping on this bandwagon rather late, so it's not like we have intimate statistical knowledge of each team, so we're gonna accentuate the positives we do have.
For one, the benches will provide plenty of entertainment.
Also, this ginger kid might show up again and steal your soul. He needs to be in the next season of Game of Thrones.
Game One: CCU 4 Arizona 2
Game Two: Arizona 8 CCU 3
Game Three: CCU 6 Arizona 4