White Sox

World Series Champs: White Sox draftees help Coastal Carolina win first college title

World Series Champs: White Sox draftees help Coastal Carolina win first college title

Coastal Carolina won its first national championship in any sport at the College World Series and two White Sox draft picks were a part of the fun.

Zach Remillard, an infielder drafted by the White Sox in the 10th round, and Mike Morrison, a right-handed pitcher drafted by the Sox in the 27th round, got to win a championship before they embark on their professional careers.

The Chanticleers entered with modest expecations. Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore often said he just wanted his team to reach the College World Series.

Until this week, he never imagined the Chanticleers would do so much more: They're heading back to Conway, South Carolina, with the school's first national championship in any sport.

The Chanticleers defeated Arizona 4-3 in the deciding Game 3 of the College World Series finals on Thursday, capitalizing on two errors on the same play to score four unearned runs in the sixth inning of a game delayed a day by bad weather.

It was worth the wait.

"Whenever I die, I'll know this group of guys here, they willed themselves to be the national champion," Gilmore said. "It was just meant to be, no doubt. If there is such a thing as a team of destiny, this group is it."

Coastal Carolina (55-18) became the first team since Minnesota in 1956 to win the title in its first CWS appearance. Arizona (49-24) was trying for its second national title since 2012, but came up just short in a season in which it was picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12.

"Amazing season, and they're a deserving champion," first-year Wildcats coach Jay Johnson said of the Chanticleers. "We played as good as we possibly could this year, and they're the best team we've played."

Andrew Beckwith (15-1), the national leader in wins, went 5 2/3 innings after pitching two complete games and picked up his third victory of the CWS. He was named the Most Outstanding Player.

"He's been coaching for 21 years, and he deserves every bit of it," Beckwith said of Gilmore. "We got him to Omaha and we got him a national championship. The senior class, the hard work in the fall, the dedication of the guys who don't play much -- it doesn't go unnoticed. It was a full team effort the whole College World Series, and we got it done."

Alex Cunningham earned his first save, striking out Ryan Haug with a full-count fastball to end the game after Arizona had pulled within a one in the bottom of the ninth. When Haug swung and missed, Cunningham turned to his dugout, beat his chest with his fist three times and saluted before flipping his glove away to start the celebration.

"The running joke is that in high school I lost the state championship three times in a row. I was not going to lose this one, I promise you that," Cunningham said.

The championship was the first in a team sport in the 33-year history of the Big South Conference. The Big South could savor the accomplishment for only about eight hours. The Chanticleers will become members of the Sun Belt Conference on Friday.

"This program has been a lot better than people give it credit for,'' Gilmore said. "They thought we played in a small conference and couldn't get this done. This bunch wanted to prove everybody wrong.''

Arizona, which came into the day with just two errors in seven CWS games, saw second baseman Cody Ramer commit two on the same play in the sixth inning. He couldn't get a handle on a grounder, allowing David Parrett to score from third. Then Ramer tried to get Michael Paez running from second to third, but he overthrew Kyle Lewis. That allowed Paez to come home.

G.K. Young then launched a no-doubt homer into the seats above the right-field bullpen for a 4-0 lead.

"It's the best feeling of my life," Young said. "I'm trying not to cry right now. Just dreaming of that in my head since I was 10 years old, hitting a home run in the College World Series. I never would have thought it would come in the championship game."

The Wildcats cut the lead in half with two unearned runs in the bottom half of the sixth against a tiring Beckwith. Arizona's Bobby Dalbec (11-6) worked 5 2/3 innings, striking out eight to increase his CWS total to 25 in 20 innings.

Arizona's first two batters in the bottom of the ninth reached base against Cunningham, and Gibbons' sacrifice fly made it a one-run game with two outs. Ryan Aguilar then doubled into the left-field corner, but Ramer was held at third because Anthony Marks was able to get the ball back to the infield so quickly.

"That's the play of the season in college baseball," Johnson said. "We play aggressively, but Cody would have been out by 100 feet -- and I know it's only 90 feet. I can't believe the play that was made."

As for the two White Sox draft picks, Remillard and Morrison, both are seniors so they will be expected to sign and join one of the two White Sox rookie affiliates, in Great Falls, Mont., or at the club's spring training complex in Arizona, in the coming weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.