CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - The biggest sports story of 2016 is perhaps the biggest one to ever happen along the Grand Strand.
Coastal Carolina baseball went from a power in the Big South Conference to a national champion in a journey that had more ups and downs than ever before in head Coach Gary Gilmore's 21 seasons.
The Coastal Carolina baseball season started just like any other, but ended with a 21-year dream becoming a reality. After finishing its final year in the Big South atop the conference, the team won its 14th Big South tournament title.
Going to the NCAA Tournament was nothing new for this team. However, the unusual circumstances began early.
Twice in the ninth inning in the Raleigh regional, play stopped in the ninth inning due to rain. But after a comeback in the regional final, the Chants pushed through to its third-ever super regional.
"It was my dream to put on a Chanticleer jersey and do what we just did," said first baseman GK Young. "I been dreaming that my whole life for Coach Gilmore."
Little did the team know that the dream was just starting. After homering its way past LSU in its first-ever super regional win, the Chants needed some ninth inning magic to come back and sweep the Tigers.
The Chants did just that, becoming the first team to sweep LSU in the postseason in its own stadium. With that, the 21-year dream was realized for Gilmore.
"I made the distinction of telling them one day this program was going to Omaha, and I think they thought I was smoking something," Gilmore said. "To see where our program has gone from that point, the great players that have come through, I was just so happy for all of them."
Coastal picked up the win in its' first-ever College World Series game, but a minor setback followed after losing its second outing. Still, this team of destiny wouldn't let it get to them.
"You can't press, can't worry about the result," said third baseman Zach Remillard. "Just stick to the process, grind out some pitches and just keep competing. Every single at-bat, stream together some quality at-bats and see where it takes us."
It would take Coastal to an all-time high. The team regrouped and eliminated Texas Tech, followed by two straight wins over TCU to advance to the championship series.
"To be honest, I've laid awake many nights wondering if I'd ever have this opportunity, to just get here, much less to this stage right here," Gilmore said at the time.
It was another first for the program, and yet the season was still far from finished. Arizona handled Coastal in the first game; but having dealt with a loss once already in Omaha, this team was used to do-or-die situations.
It all lead up to one more showdown, which itself lead to the best inning in Chanticleer history – GK Young's home run and capitalizing on errors set the stage for the biggest save of Alex Cunningham's life.
In the end, Coastal Carolina secured the school's first-ever national championship.
"It's everything you imagine and then some more," said second baseman Seth Lancaster following the game. "I kind of kept my cool until I found my parents, and I started crying."