And then there was one.
Eleven Pac-12 baseball teams started the season. Five made the NCAA tournament. Four won their regional. Two advanced to the College World Series.
Then, with UCLA falling to Florida State and being eliminated in the CWS quarterfinals Tuesday night, only the Arizona Wildcats remain.
This Week in the Pac-12 (TWIT-Pac) will have to carry on with a single squad extending the season for the conference. It does make typing the schedule easier though. All times, as usual, are Arizona/Pacific:
Arizona (45-17) vs. Florida State (50-16)
Today, 2 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 / ESPN3.com
Arizona vs. Florida State (if necessary)
Tomorrow, 2 p.m. or 6 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 / ESPN3.com
The scenarios are very simple. If the Wildcats win they advance to the College World Series Championship Finals. If FSU wins today the same two teams play a do-or-die game tomorrow for the right to advance to the finals.
The best-of-three series to determine the national championship begins Sunday night against Arkansas, South Carolina or Kent State.
Continuing the simplicity theme, coaches Andy Lopez and Mike Martin are starting the same pitchers that squared off when these two teams first met: the UA’s Kurt Heyer (7 2/3 innings pitched Friday, 6 hits, 1 earned run, 8 strikeouts, 3 walks) and FSU’s Brandon Leibrandt (4 1/3 IP, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 5 K’s and no walks).
Both hurlers pitched well in the opener but the advantage shifts to the hitters the more times they face a guy. Who can best adjust to what they learned six days ago?
It has only been four days since Arizona last played but it feels like a week and a half. Shortstop Alex Mejia talked about the team preparing like this is the start of a new weekend series. The difference is instead of going to classes or traveling to a new city between games the team has been living in the same hotel, itching to get back on the field.
If you do look at it like a weekend series, Arizona already has a 1-0 lead and that’s a great place to be. Since the Championship Finals format began in 2003, 18 teams started 2-0 at the CWS and 14 of them advanced to the finals. Ten of the 14 got there by winning the third game to complete the sweep of their half of the bracket.
The flip side is only half of the eight 2-0 teams that lost the third game recovered to win the fourth game. All the more reason for Lopez to ignore my advice and start Heyer to go for the kill.
(It’s worth noting that Rice was responsible for half of the instances when a 2-0 team was unable to advance, failing to seal the deal in both 2006 and 2007. Maybe your odds go down when your school name is edible.)
As far as what to watch for today I was going to research the Seminoles’ walk numbers but Arizona play-by-play man Brian Jeffries summed it up better than I ever could:
Last 57 innings FSU has drawn 42 walks. Last 57 innings UA staff has issued 4 walks. Guess what a big key is (today)?
Heyer needs to throw strikes but also hit his spots within the strike zone against the top four hitters in the FSU batting order. Florida State had nine hits against UCLA and Sherman Johnson, Devon Travis, James Ramsey and Jayce Boyd combined to produce seven of them. Finishing off innings before turning the lineup over will be big.
At the plate the Wildcats struck out 10 times in the 12 innings Friday night which is uncharacteristic for this team. The UA needs to put the ball in play, keep pressure on the Seminole defense and work that momentum magic when a couple guys get on.
If the Cats can take the comfort of knowing they have tomorrow and use it to play like there’s no tomorrow, they stand a great chance of advancing beyond tomorrow.
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