OMAHA, Neb. -- Three weeks ago, Coastal Carolina trailed its NCAA regional championship game by two runs heading into the ninth inning. It rallied for four runs and a dramatic victory over North Carolina State, and it hasn't stopped hitting since.
The Chanticleers (53-17) have scored 18 runs in the last three days at the College World Series, including a 7-5 victory over Texas Christian on Saturday night that made them the first club to reach the finals in their initial Omaha appearance since Georgia Tech in 1994.
"Coming from where I started 21 years ago and where our university was at that point in time, and where we're at today, to know that we're on this stage is one of the most incredible things I could have ever imagined," Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore said. "I don't know if I've ever dreamt this far, to be honest with you. I dreamt of getting to Omaha. I don't know that I ever dreamt of getting to this point."
The first Big South Conference team ever to play in the CWS, the Chanticleers now lead Division I in victories and will play Arizona for the national title in a best-of-three series beginning on Monday. Both teams survived the loser's bracket to reach the finals, something that hadn't happened since the first year of the two-bracket format in 1988. No team had gone from the loser's bracket to the championship series since South Carolina in 2010.
Coastal Carolina rode its usual combination of a deep lineup and a battling pitching staff to defeat the Horned Frogs (49-17) for the second straight day. A pair of undrafted seniors, left fielder Anthony Marks and second baseman Tyler Chadwick, each contributed three hits, two runs and an RBI as the Chanticleers burst out to a 7-1 lead after four innings.
"We pride ourselves as hitters on being selfless and relentless in everything we do,'' Chadwick said. "Being selfless when we need to bunt, and being relentless when we get people in scoring position and need to get it done. In order for us to be the team we want to be and have been all year, we have to hit one through nine."
Pitching on three days of rest, junior right-hander Alex Cunningham avenged a Tuesday loss to TCU by working into the seventh. After overthrowing at times during his CWS debut, the 28th-round pick of the Tigers did a better job of commanding his fastball and spinning his breaking ball in his second outing. The Horned Frogs chased him with two runs in the seventh and got the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning against sophomore righty Bobby Holmes, but he induced a game-ending double play.
"Their resiliency, toughness and talent has shown through in this tournament," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "By no means are they a Cinderella. You don't win 53 games and be a Cinderella. You're a really good team that can win a national title."
Arizona 5, Oklahoma State 1
For a guy who doesn't particularly enjoy pitching, Bobby Dalbec sure does a good job of it. And because he does, Arizona will play for its fifth national championship.
Dalbec threw seven innings of one-run ball on Saturday afternoon to help the Wildcats beat Oklahoma State, 5-1, at the College World Series. The Wildcats (48-22) improved to 6-0 in elimination games during these NCAA playoffs..
Five days after striking out 12 Cowboys in eight innings, but taking a tough 1-0 loss, Dalbec was less dominant but just as efficient. Working with an 89-92 mph fastball and a short slider, the junior right-hander threw 68 of 102 pitches for strikes while allowing just four hits and two walks and striking out six. He improved to 11-5 with a 2.65 ERA and took over the strikeout lead in the NCAA tournament (33 in 30 2/3 innings) and the CWS (18 in 15 frames).
"I'm not a big fan of pitching," said Dalbec, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Red Sox strictly as a third baseman. "I've always said that. I love having a bat in my hand or making plays at third base. I love to hit. If that was the last pitching performance of my career, it was a good way to go out."
Dalbec entered 2016 as the consensus best power-hitting prospect in college and a likely first-round pick after leading the Cape Cod League with 12 homers in 27 games last summer. He started slowly at the plate this spring, batting .163 and going homerless in his first 13 contests, but first-year Wildcats coach Jay Johnson said Dalbec still set the tone for a team that Pac-12 Conference coaches picked to finish ninth in the 11-team league at the start of the year.
"Bobby at the outset was getting pitched extremely tough and got off to a little bit of a tough start," Johnson said. "I think the story in this whole thing is his character and perseverance offensively, and he's been huge for us offensively in the postseason … His ability to finish games in the early part of this season helped the team develop a lot of confidence, and that cannot be overstated."
Dalbec, who leads the Wildcats with seven saves, moved into the rotation for three strong starts in April, returned to bullpen later in the month and then returned to the rotation during the NCAA postseason. He threw 8 2/3 shutout innings with nine strikeouts to beat Mississippi State, 1-0, on the road in a super-regional opener, then homered the next day. After hitting .253 with five homers during the regular season, he's batting .300 with two homers in eight playoff starts at third base.
Oklahoma State (43-22), which never trailed in its first seven NCAA playoff games this year and gave up a total of six runs in those contests, fell behind in the first inning for the second straight day and couldn't recover. A day after losing, 9-3, to the Wildcats, the Cowboys handed the ball to Big 12 Conference pitcher of the year Thomas Hatch, a junior right-hander and third-round pick of the Cubs. Hatch hadn't allowed a run in 23 NCAA postseason innings and was coming off a five-hit shutout of UC Santa Barbara in the CWS opener, but he lasted just two innings and yielded four runs on four doubles.
Arizona at Coastal Carolina, 7 p.m. ET
Coastal Carolina at Arizona, 8 p.m. ET
Coastal Carolina at Arizona, 8 p.m. ET (if necessary)
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.