Thousands of Coastal Carolina University fans made the pilgrimage to the General Aviation Terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport Thursday night to welcome their champions home.
The Chanticleers were due to return by midnight on a redeye flight from Omaha, Neb., where the team beat the University of Arizona Wildcats in a nail-biting epic battle for the 2016 NCAA College World Series trophy.
Flags waved. Banners flew and cheers erupted with the chant “C-C-U, C-C-U, C-C-U” as the plane taxied from the runway to the gate.
“Congratulations to the sac-bunt-getting, homerun-hitting, complete-game-pitching Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina University. Way to go, baby,” said Jay Martin of CCU’s Class of 2011.
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I would have been here if it was 2 in the morning.
Colleen Balzotti of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
Martin said he saw the first of the best-of-three-game series away from home. Chanticleers lost that match. He stayed in to see the next game and the Chanticleers won.
“I said, you know what? I’m watching it at home again. No chances taken,” he said. And the last second of that final game Thursday afternoon is beautifully seared in his memory.
The Chanticleers had the Wildcats cornered 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. An Arizona runner stood on third base as a batter steadied his hands at home plate. Three balls and two strikes later, the game and fate of the College World Series was down to one last pitch.
“It was a lot of anxiety, (a) nail-biter,” said Amanda Donner, who watched the game with her daughter at King Street Grille.
Her husband, Doug Donner, general manager of the International Club of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, was glued with his co-workers to a television at the club a few miles away. The last pitch made him nervous, he said.
But others in the crowd said they would never forget the moment that followed.
“I remember him swinging the bat and I remember the catcher threw his mask off and I was like, ‘They won! They… WON!” Martin said, standing outside of the terminal gate. “We’re not this little dot over in the corner of the state anymore. We’re going to be recognized, definitely.”
Colleen Balzotti, a graphic designer with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said she caught the iconic moment on her camera as the crowd inside Handley’s Pub went wild.
The Chamber of Commerce will soon be dining on Arizona cuisine after winning a friendly bet with the Chamber of Commerce in Arizona that the Chanticleers – not the Wildcats – would bring home the trophy.
I remember him swinging the bat and I remember the catcher threw his mask off and I was like, ‘They won! They… WON!
Jay Martin, CCU Class of 2011 alum
The late hour of the Chants return didn’t deter Balzotti and her sons from coming out to welcome the champions home.
“I would have been here if it was 2 in the morning,” she said.
Thousands of others seemed to agree as they cheered on the Chanticleers, jostling for a glimpse of their heroes at the gate and recalling a “Cinderella story” with the happiest of endings.