It was not just unbelievable; it was super unbelievable.
Sam Cohen’s pinch-hit, grand-slam home run in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday lifted UCSB to a 4-3 victory over Louisville, sweeping the favored Cardinals out of the NCAA Super Regional and sending the Gauchos to the College World Series for the first time.
How unlikely was UCSB’s victory, much less the way it happened?
—Louisville had a 36-1 record on its home diamond before the Gauchos came in and won two straight, beginning with a 4-2 pitching gem on Saturday.
—The Cardinals were picked by many experts to be the next national champion. Three of their players were chosen in the first round of the major league draft, and seven altogether went in the first four rounds.
—Entering the ninth inning with a lead, Louisville had a streak of 186 consecutive victories.
—On the mound for the Cardinals was Zack Burdi, the nation’s premier closer with a 100-mph fastball, drafted in the first round by the Chicago White Sox.
—Cohen, a third-string catcher, had 26 at-bats all season and one home run.
Burdi started the ninth inning by striking out slugger Austin Bush, who had homered in UCSB’s four previous postseason games. JJ Muno singled on a grounder up the middle. Then Burdi walked Dempsey Grover (after putting him in a 1-2 hole) and pinch-hitter Billy Fredrick, which brought up Cohen with the bases loaded.
UCSB coach Andrew Checketts thought Cohen’s bat speed might be able to contend with Burdi’s stuff. On a 1-2 count, the freshman got ahold of a 90-mph change-up and belted it inside the right-field foul pole. The game-winning blast and his trip around the bases into a joyous dog pile of teammates — swallowing up the umpire who had to make sure he touched home plate — was the No. 1 highlight of ESPN’s Top 10 and sent shock waves throughout the college baseball world. See Cohen talk about the grand slam with Dan Patrick here.
It was UCSB’s Kirk Gibson moment, recalling the Dodgers’ stunning victory in the 1988 World Series — eight years before Cohen was born. Donn Bernstein, a Gaucho fan who worked for ABC, sent a message to announcer Al Michaels, suggesting that his call when the U.S. hockey team upset the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics was appropriate for the occasion: “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
The Gauchos (42-18-1) will face Oklahoma State (41-20) in the opening game of the College World Series at noon (PDT) Saturday, June 18, at Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Also in their bracket are Miami (Fla.) and Arizona. The other bracket includes top-ranked Florida, Coastal Carolina, Texas Tech and TCU. The two teams winning each double-elimination bracket will meet in a three-game series for the national title.
DRAFT DETAILS: Right-hander Shane Bieber, who pitched UCSB to its Saturday win at Louisville, was a fourth-round selection of the Cleveland Indians. Other Gaucho selections were outfielder Andrew Calica (11th round, Cleveland) and pitchers James Carter (21st round, Dodgers), Trevor Bettencourt (25th round, Philadelphia), and Justin Kelly (33rd round, Angels)… The Phillies selected Santa Barbara High’s outstanding senior right-hander Kevin Gowdy with the first pick of the second round, a position that is worth a potential $1 million contract. Gowdy, recruited by UCLA, has until late July to decide whether to go pro…. The Santa Barbara Foresters had 18 former or current players named in the draft. Former S.B. High infielder Johnny Brontsema chose to sign with the Kansas City Royals, who picked him in the 26th round.