One of the great things about college baseball is how historically hard it is to call who will win it all. There are perennial powers, like Cal State Fullerton, Texas, and Arizona. But there is occasionally one team that comes out of left field to challenge for the World Series (think the 2012 Kent State team).
This year's championship round — which begins Monday at 7 p.m. — features two teams that fit that mold quite well. Arizona is back in the College World Series final for the first time since it won it all in 2012. Meanwhile, this will be Coastal Carolina’s first time in the championship round.
Arizona wasn’t supposed to make it this far, and neither were the Chanticleers. The Wildcats may have benefited from the Pac-12 being one of the weirdest conferences in college baseball — Utah won the conference with an overall losing record but dominated its conference foes — while also being incredibly steady throughout the season.
Coastal Carolina was a far different story, coming out of the far less glamorous Big South conference and finishing with only three losses in conference play.
Both teams have knocked off major competition en route to the final, with Arizona beating No. 3 Miami and Coastal Carolina beating No. 1 Florida and No. 5 Texas Tech.
Now the teams face off in an epic best-of-three series for the chance to bring a title to their school. Both teams have been praised for their looseness and ability to rally from precarious situations. But only one can come out victorious.
The Chanticleers have been good for quite some time. But it was always assumed that they would do this year what they’ve done each year they play in the tournament: pronounce themselves as a true mid-major power before being knocked out by a more established name.
Not this year.
Coastal won 53 games on the way to competing for the national championship and have one of the most polarizing pitchers to not be drafted into the MLB in Andrew Beckwith. Beckwith holds a season ERA of 1.94 and pitched a 137-pitch gem last Friday to earn his nation-leading 14th win.
The Chanticleers ace certainly doesn’t look like he wants to go home. And at offense-killing TD Ameritrade Park, Coastal has found ways of putting runs on the board to support their solid rotation. Its offense has hit 95 home runs so far this season, the most in Division I in the past six seasons that power stats have been recorded. Arizona will be hoping the Chanticleers used them all up in the run to Monday night’s game.
Coastal’s calling card may be offense, but the Wildcats have boasted some of the stingiest pitching in the College World Series. They have only allowed six runs in five games played, which would make them only the fifth team to do so in an entire run through Omaha.
Arizona is certainly the more mainstream name and there is one daunting statistic that no Chanticleers fan wants to see: Each time the Wildcats have reached the final in Omaha (4), they have won the trophy.
Whether Coastal can pull off the upset or the Wildcats can get their fifth title to tie in-state rival Arizona State all adds to the intrigue of the College World Series. The mystery, the surprise teams, and the tournament format truly makes this tournament one of the best in college sports.
And no matter who wins the title, it will be quite a spectacle to watch. Better grab some popcorn and sunflower seeds — this one could go to three.
Photos: Ted Kirk/AP (Coastal Carolina action, Arizona action, Coastal Carolina celebration), Nati Harnik/AP (Arizona celebration)