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Cinderella No Longer; A Dream Come True

 

Before the 2016 season, Coastal Carolina had never experienced a College World Series. On June 12, 2016, the Chanticleers were tied, 3-3, heading into the bottom of ninth against the LSU Tigers. It was the NCAA Super Regionals and a trip to Omaha was on the line.

 

Fireflies' infielder Michael Paez (a former Chanticleer) was due up second in the last half of the ninth frame. Anthony Marks, who currently plays for the Augusta GreenJackets, was scheduled to lead off the inning.

 

"He came up to me and told me with a serious face that he was gonna get on first base, steal second, and then I am going to bring him in," Paez explained. "Let's do it. I mean why not," Paez chucked, in response just before the inning began.

 

Marks worked a full count and ultimately earned a lead-off walk in the ninth inning. He then proceeded to steal second base, just like he told Michael.

 

"It was an incredible moment," said Marks. "I was so confident."

 

Now, it was Paez's turn. He was hitless in his four previous at-bats with three strikeouts.

 

"I got a good pitch and a lucky chopper over the third baseman and I knew no one was throwing him (Marks) out," Paez said. "It was one good experience."

 

With that, Coastal Carolina defeated LSU, 4-3, and punched its first-ever ticket to Omaha with a chance to play in the College World Series. The current Firefly was a significant contributor all season with the Chanticleers during their miraculous run. Paez was second on the team with 18 doubles and led the squad with 67 runs. The Miami native also played in all 73 games during his final collegiate season in 2016.

 

"This is all great experience from college and I am eager to see him (Paez) get started with us," said Fireflies' manager Jose Leger.

 

A few weeks into Columbia's season, Paez has already crossed paths with his former Coastal Carolina teammate (Anthony Marks) several times. The Fireflies played eight of their first 11 games against the Augusta GreenJackets this season.

 

"He (referring to Marks) is one of my best friends in the world so it's fun playing against him…it's a little weird, but it's fun," said Paez. "We sometimes talk during the game if he is at second base or something, I'll just tell him nice swing. We'll text after the games and talk about what we did and give each other good feedback."

 

After the tandem helped place Coastal Carolina into the College World Series, there was still more history to document. The Chanticleers took down Florida, Texas Tech, and TCU to ultimately reach the College World Series championship round. 

 

Paez and the squad lost game one of this best of three series, 3-0, to Arizona. The Big South champs battled back, won the next two games, and claimed the school's first College World Series title. Coastal Carolina finished with 55 wins (tying a single-season school record).

 

"Every school should have this goal going into the year, however, I have to admit that I didn't really expect this," Paez reflected. "I was a freshman back in the day watching TV and seeing Vanderbilt and Virginia always making it every year. We (referring to Coastal Carolina) were always wondering if we could be one of these teams to make it."

 

The Chanticleers began the 2016 season with seven wins and seven loses.

 

"We were thinking…not again…we were so good just not showing it," Paez explains. "Then we believed throughout the year and when it got to regional time we just thought why not us."

 

Paez's team rallied and steamrolled through competition with 48 wins in the following 59 games. In 2014, it was a program that had only 24 wins compared to 33 loses. That was Paez's freshman season. 

 

Now, Paez is just getting his first full season of pro ball underway with the Fireflies. The Mets drafted him in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

 

"When your career is over with, one of the things you remember are those long bus trips and those fun hotel nights," Paez said. "You have to embrace it and it's this stuff that brings us more chemistry on the field."

 

The infielder hit a home run in his first game for Columbia back on April 6th. Paez has played primarily at shortstop and second base for the Fireflies. It's safe to say the former College World Series champion has found a home in The Midlands.