The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
The Arizona Wildcats have proven the shortest path from the start of the NCAA tournament to the College World Series Championship Finals is win, win, win, win, win, win, win win.
The UA beat No. 3 Florida State for the second time in seven days to sweep their bracket and move two wins away from the program’s fourth national championship.
Omaha was supposed to be where the UA got exposed as being too thin. Too many games, too many quality opponents, not enough depth.
The book on the 2012 Wildcats was to outlast them. Get into their bullpen. Extend the series. But Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade have kept the bullpen in the background, and you can’t extend the Cats if you can’t beat them. Teams are now 0-8 in that department this postseason.
Thursday’s bracket-clincher against the Seminoles hinged on two early plays. Sherman Johnson, the very first batter of the game, stroked a hit to left and tried to stretch it into a double. Replays showed Johnson’s hand hit the bag before Trent Gilbert’s tag but FSU didn’t get the call. Instead of the leadoff man in scoring position Florida State had the bases empty and did nothing else that inning.
In the bottom half of the frame, after a leadoff single, Johnny Field tapped one back to the mound. But instead of a bases-clearing double play, Brandon Leibrandt’s throw sailed into center field and FSU left the door open for Arizona.
The Wildcats, as they’ve done this entire tournament, burst through that door with a flurry of hits and Florida State never recovered.
Who needs a second string when your first string is playing out of its collective mind?
Conventional wisdom says you play your bench all year to keep everyone sharp and ready. You’re also supposed to limit your starting pitchers’ innings to preserve their arms.
Andy Lopez’s bench consists of one guy. Brandon Dixon comes into every game at some point to play first base. There are no pinch hitters.
On the mound the philosophy is simple: Throw the best arm available and keep him out there as long as he’s effective. That means, since the start of the super regional, the rotation has gone Heyer, Wade, Heyer, Wade, Heyer.
Reliever Stephen Manthei, tied for the team lead in appearances, has pitched one time since May 6. James Farris, the team’s third starter, hasn’t pitched in three weeks. And he threw a complete game his last time out.
Lopez may not have a lot of buttons to work with but he keeps pushing the right ones.
Frank Sancet took the UA to the championship game at the CWS three times in the 1950s and ‘60s and lost each time. Jerry Kindall made it three times in the ‘70s and ‘80s and brought home the trophy each time. Lopez went one-for-one with Pepperdine in the ’90s and will now make his first attempt with Arizona.
Only one coach, Augie Garrido at Cal State Fullerton and Texas, has ever won the College World Series at two different schools.
Arizona will face its biggest challenge in the Championship Finals, and that’s the way it should be. The Cats will either face a South Carolina team with upperclassmen who already own two national championships rings, or an Arkansas squad that beat the team with two national championship rings.
What these Wildcats will not face are any more depth tests. Lopez has managed to treat every portion of this tournament like a short series and just one short series remains. It’ll be Wade in game one. It’ll probably be Heyer in game two.
Will there be a game three? This team hasn’t taken the long way yet.
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