Game One was renowned for the masterful performance of Arizona pitcher JC Cloney as he dominated Coastal Carolina. Cloney had a one-hitter through eight innings and pitched the first complete-game shutout in the best-of-three format.
He was also bolstered by a Coastal team that looked a bit flustered and struggled at times to escape innings unscathed. When the Wildcats went ahead in the first inning Monday, it seemed like it’d be a tough task for Coastal to even tie it up, especially in offense-averse TD Ameritrade Park. Arizona took the game, 3-0.
Fast forward less than 24 hours, and Arizona seemed to be on another roll to an early lead. With the bases loaded and one out, the Wildcats oddly opted for a squeeze bunt to bolster their lead. The play ended with the runner at third getting tagged out and nearly resulted in a caught-stealing double play. The tone was officially set for a strange evening in Omaha.
Arizona came out of the inning with only one run and knew it should have scored more. That ultimately came to bite them when the Chanticleers found their bats as the game wore on.
Whether it is the revitalized offense, the heroic pitching of typical closer Mike Morrison, or Rafiki the rally monkey (which that they picked up at a truck stop early on in the tournament), the Chanticleers found themselves some luck on Tuesday in a 5-4 win that forced a win-or-go-home Game Three.
Now Coastal holds the momentum for Wednesday’s game — and something that could prove even more valuable: ace Andrew Beckwith.
You may remember Beckwith as the guy who throws submarine style (he whips the ball in a underhand motion that puts less stress on his elbow and shoulder). Or as the pitcher who threw a 137-pitch complete-game gem against TCU in a 4-1 win a few days ago. Either way, his presence on the plate is something the Wildcats can’t be happy to see on the mound.
Beckwith is ranked No. 18 in the country in ERA and his pitching style is especially difficult on same-sided hitters. So while the Wildcats usually depend on their stingy defense — one that had allowed only six runs in five games before Tuesday — they’ll need their offense to step up this time.
Naturally, the Chanticleers will hope to replicate what they did Tuesday and put runs on the board early so Beckwith can deal from the mound.
In truth, neither of these teams was expected to be here at the beginning of the season, or even when the tournament began.
Arizona benefited from a strange year in the PAC-12, and the Chanticleers are now renowned for coming out of the Big South Conference but never making too much of a splash in the tournament.
Now both team’s have a chance at the championship — Arizona’s fifth and first since 2012, Coastal’s first ever — and it all comes down to nine innings in the confines of TD Ameritrade.
The comparisons of 2008-underdog-story Fresno State won’t be lost on the Chanticleers, who have been underdogs this entire tournament. Meanwhile, Arizona will look at the past pedigree of the program as proof that it’s been here before and taken care of business. The Wildcats have made it to Omaha four times, and taken home the trophy each time.
Game Three may be every college baseball fan’s favorite words, but there will be a few at the end of the night who will be wondering if a Game Four or Five can be fit into the team’s schedule.
Photos: Ted Kirk/AP