The Arizona Wildcats baseball team came into the College World Series as a team that had already accomplished a long list of goals.
Now, after winning two games in Omaha, the UA has The Look. That’s capital T – The – capital L – Look, as in dangerous enough to win the big capital C.
Friday night’s game had a bit of magic with Arizona catching multiple Florida State runners on the base paths in the extra innings then pushing across the game-winner after getting shut down by FSU’s closer for three frames.
Games like that can easily end up as a team’s lone highlight in Omaha. Following it up with another – and more convincing – victory definitely raised a lot of eyebrows.
Winning two College World Series games is hard enough in itself. Arizona hadn’t won twice at the CWS since 1986.
No, this wasn’t just winning two games in Omaha. It was beating a UCLA team that was one of the few squads that could say it was hotter than Arizona. The UA had won seven straight and 14 of 16; UCLA had won 10 in a row and 17 or 18. Arizona played a 10-inning game in its Super Regional; UCLA only gave up three total runs.
And Konner Wade didn’t just beat the Bruins; he dominated them.
UCLA only had one threat Sunday night. The Bruins loaded the bases after two were out in the top of the fifth inning but failed to score. Outside that frame UCLA put exactly two runners on base: a two-out infield single in the sixth and a single with one away in the eighth inning that was erased by a double play on the very next pitch.
So in eight of the nine innings UCLA never put two men on base and never put a runner in scoring position. No extra base hits and no walks. Not even deep fly balls. Besides going to pick up a handful of grounders, none of the Wildcat outfielders ever had to break out of a trot.
Then again, Arizona only had one threat too. The UA went down in order in six of eight at-bats. The seventh was a one-out single and a sac bunt. The difference is the Cats took full advantage of their one opportunity. When two guys got hits in the fourth inning the next three all followed with hits to score four runs.
That’s how this team has operated all year. There aren’t any first- or second-round picks in the middle of the order waiting to hit one 400 feet. It’s about stringing hits together, taking advantage of mid-inning momentum and making a pitcher pay when he gets a little rattled.
Because there aren’t the elite draft picks and because Arizona wasn’t a national seed this is a coming-out party for this team. The national media and fans are seeing, hey, Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade are strong starting pitchers. Alex Mejia and Seth Mejias-Brean are stout in the field. Rob Refsnyder and Bobby Brown are RBI machines.
It reminds you of two basketball seasons ago when Derrick Williams exploded on the national scene by dismantling Duke, allowing Sean Miller to talk about what people had been missing all year.
Arizona Baseball will now try to do what Williams couldn’t. The 2011 UA hoops team bowed out short of the Final Four and the championship game. The 2012 BatCats need one more win to get to the final two and three more wins to take the whole thing.
Getting that next one will not be easy. It’s double elimination for a reason. The winner of the UCLA/Florida State game will have the taste of winning back in its mouth. Just two years ago South Carolina made its first national championship run out of the losers’ bracket.
Who do you start on the mound on Thursday? The regular rotation says its James Farris’ turn but with the extra rest you could come back with Heyer.
Me? I stick with Farris. That way Heyer’s next start will be either Arizona’s first elimination game or the opening game of the championship series. Both scenarios are the exact type of contest you want started by your rested ace.
But there’s no way I question anything Andy Lopez chooses to do at this point. He could put one of his bearded sons out there and I’d expect seven strong innings.
Every button Lopez has pushed has worked for six weeks and counting. If you watch the videos of his team workouts or postgame huddles you hear coaching clichés, rah-rah talk and team chants. But you also hear a single voice, and a team listening in unison.
Lopez has his players believing in him, believing in themselves and believing in each other. They are playing really well. They are on a major roll.
They have The Look of a team ready to keep winning.
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