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Coastal Carolina's one-of-a-kind road to Omaha ends with history

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Coach Gilmore on CWS win: 'It's indescribable' (0:34)

Coach Gilmore on CWS win: 'It's indescribable' Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore reflects on his 21 years as head coach and is proud of how far the program has come. (0:34)

OMAHA, Neb. -- Gary Gilmore, the Coastal Carolina coach of the past 21 seasons who ushered the Chanticleers from their infancy in Division I to a national title-clinching, 4-3 victory Thursday over Arizona in the decisive Game 3 of the College World Series finals, could not hold back any longer.

For two weeks here, Gilmore stuck to baseball -- lineups and pitching moves and other strategy. But as he clutched the trophy moments after securing the first NCAA championship in school history, Gilmore thought primarily about his father.

Richard Gilmore died two years ago early in the spring.

He taught Gary everything about the game and about life. He taught him to stay the course in the most frustrating times, and there were plenty as the coach of a Big South program in a state dominated by two national powers.

"I'd give a gazillion, millions of dollars to give him one hug right now," Gilmore said Thursday, standing in shallow right field at TD Ameritrade Park, the CCU logo spinning behind him alongside a championship emblem on the big scoreboard.

It was Gilmore's one regret, that his father could not celebrate with him.

Everything else about this day was nearly perfect. At the end of the longest CWS ever -- 17 games over 13 days, ending some seven hours before the calendar flips to July and Coastal Carolina leaves the Big South for the Sun Belt Conference -- the Chanticleers accomplished a once-unthinkable feat.

"Some people are still going to say we got lucky," senior Anthony Marks said. "And that's fine. They can say whatever they want. It ain't luck. This is blood, sweat and tears."

From Conway, South Carolina, to Omaha, Marks' words resonate to the thumping beat of a celebration like none this university has triggered in its 62-year history.

The past two weeks, in fact, unfolded as a dream for the Chanticleers. They landed at Eppley Airfield on June 16 and bused straight to this ballpark, walking through the double doors adjacent to 13th Street at 3:30 p.m. -- two weeks to the moment, almost the exact second, that Alex Cunningham fanned Ryan Haug on a full-count pitch with Wildcats at second and third base.

The final pitch ignited a rush to the pitcher's mound, with Cunningham buried by more than a dozen bodies.

"To say, 'Coastal Carolina, national champions,' " Gilmore said, "it's got a great ring to it. But did I really think that was going to happen when we started back in February?

"Shoot, I thought we had a chance to be good."

The Chanticleers were more than good in Omaha, closing this CWS with a nation-high 55 wins as ace right-hander Andrew Beckwith earned his nation-best 15th victory for 5⅔ innings of work.

It wasn't vintage Beckwith, but Bobby Holmes bailed him out of the sixth inning after Arizona scored twice. And Cunningham pitched the final two innings, giving up one run in the ninth on two hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly.

Arizona coach Jay Johnson held Cody Ramer, who raced from first base, at third on Ryan Agulilar's two-out double to the left-field corner.

A good throw from shortstop Michael Paez would have surely nailed Ramer. And to that point, Coastal made every play when needed. The win Thursday marked its sixth this postseason in elimination games.

It came back in the ninth to beat North Carolina State on the road in regional play, then won two straight at powerful LSU in a super regional. The Chanticleers beat TCU twice to reach the championship series and won Tuesday to force a winner-take-all final.

After stormy weather postponed the final game until Thursday afternoon, Coastal capitalized on Ramer's two errors on the same ground ball hit by Zach Remillard in the sixth inning. Paez and David Parrett scored on the misplay before designated hitter G.K. Young hit a laser into the right-field bullpen for a two-run homer.

"It wasn't always a golden path," Remillard said. "But this is a grinding group. To say we were worried, I don't think so."

After the dogpile, the Chanticleers lingered on the field for an hour. A few players scooped dirt from the first-base line into empty water bottles.

"There's been nothing bigger than this for our university," athletic director Matt Hogue said. "We keep telling people across the country, globally, anybody who will listen, 'This university is a special place. There's a special force, a special energy.'

"Sometimes that message doesn't resonate. Sometimes, in our state, it doesn't resonate, but we knew this day was going to come."

Gilmore clutched the trophy before passing it to his players and administrators.

"I hope he keeps it in his office," Marks said, "then keeps it in his house when he's done coaching."

A party on Myrtle Beach awaits the Chanticleers in South Carolina. Gilmore will partake, then he said he wants to take this weekend to reflect. He's going to turn off his cellphone and talk to no one.

"I need two days to put this in perspective," the coach said. "I'm numb."

No doubt, he'll think about his father and the inspirational figures who drew this team together -- like the wife of pitching coach Drew Thomas, Jaymie Thomas, who has battled breast cancer this year, and the son of associate head coach Kevin Schnall, Jayden Schnall, who faced life-saving surgery after a series of recent strokes.

"All the things that have happened to us, I just have to know in my heart, there are bigger things at work," Gilmore said.

It sure looked like it over the past two weeks in Omaha.