OMAHA, Neb. — Until this week, Gary Gilmore didn't know if he would ever have as good a Coastal Carolina team as he did in 2010. That 55-win club was the No. 4 national seed for the NCAA Tournament but lost a pair of one-run games to South Carolina in super regionals.
For six years, Gilmore was dogged by memories of watching the Gamecocks celebrate on his home field before they went on to win the first of two straight national championships.
"Losing in 2010 was the hardest gut-wrenching loss of my life," he said.
On Thursday, Gilmore was holding the championship trophy. He and his Chanticleers won their school's first national title in any sport, validation for a baseball program that ranks eighth in wins since 2000 but until this year couldn't break through to make the College World Series.
Their 4-3 victory over Arizona in the deciding Game 3 of the finals was their 41st in 50 games and gave them a nation-leading 54 wins against 18 losses.
Though Gilmore liked this team coming into the season, he didn't necessarily see a national championship coming.
"I didn't think we were where we were in just sheer talent in 2010," Gilmore said, "but I thought we were probably the second most talented team I had coached at Coastal Carolina at that point in time."
The 2010 team had five players who were drafted in the first 10 rounds, five others who were drafted and a free agent who made it to the major leagues.
This year, only shortstop Michael Paez and third baseman Zach Remillard were taken in the first 10 rounds, and four others were selected between the 27th and 34th rounds.
"Our motto has been 'selfless and relentless' for the last two years. It's on the carpet in our locker room," pitcher Alex Cunningham said. "Coach Gilmore, he's literally the epitome of that. He embodies it in everything he does."
This year's team ran away with the Big South Conference title but had to make some narrow escapes to reach Omaha. The Chanticleers were down to their last strike in the regional final at North Carolina State before finishing a ninth-inning comeback to advance.
Second baseman Seth Lancaster, who delivered the winning hit in the regional final, was lost for the season in the super regional at LSU because of a torn knee ligament. The Chanticleers swept the Tigers in one of the toughest venues in the country on Paez's walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
Then it was on to Omaha, where Coastal had to win four elimination games en route to the winner-take-all final Thursday.
The Chanticleers led the nation in home runs but had just two in eight games at TD Ameritrade Park. They found other ways to win, taking advantage of the spacious outfield to hit 14 doubles, moving runners along with the bunt and getting the timely hit.
They leaned heavily on a pitching staff whose competitiveness trumped its lack of elite talent and depth.
CWS Most Outstanding Player Andrew Beck, who led the nation with 15 wins, pitched two complete games in bracket play and started Game 3 of the finals. Mike Morrison stepped out of his closer's role to make his first start of the season in Game 2 of the finals and struck out 10 in 6 2/3 innings, both career highs. Zack Hopeck was a hard-luck loser in a finals opener in which the Chanticleers couldn't solve JC Cloney, who pitched a complete-game shutout.
"This group just somehow found a way to do something that two or three of the other teams that were in the same position weren't able to do," Gilmore said. "They made a pitch. They made a play. We got a hit. We did something that enabled us to do it."