The balloons and streamers have been put away. The national championship merchandise has flown off the shelves. The 2012 Arizona Wildcats baseball season is officially over.
Bring on next year.
Of the 15 players who carried the bulk of the load this year only senior Bobby Brown is certain to be gone but the five drafted juniors will most likely sign pro contracts. They should sign. Unless they get an absolutely lowball bonus offer (or if they simply love the college experience) they should capitalize on their collective stock never being higher and chase their big-league dreams.
For the five pillars of the 2009 recruiting class, it is the end of a job well done.
For the other guys? If we put on our cap of reasonable assumptions we see Johnny Field playing center field and batting third. Joe Maggi will be a corner outfielder, Riley Moore will remain the catcher and both will be in the upper half of the order. Brandon Dixon will start as the everyday first baseman and Trent Gilbert will man second (I don’t see him having the glove skills to move over to short and he turns a really nice double play at 2B).
The rest of the lineup will have to be incoming freshmen or someone tucked away on the bench a la Brown. Either way you have to be curious about the run production and especially concerned about the defense on the left side of the infield.
Looking at the returning pitching staff, however, is when you raise your eyebrows, make a Robert De Niro face and slowly nod your head in admiration.
There wouldn’t have been nearly this much optimism at the end of the regular season because neither of Konner Wade’s first two seasons matched what Kurt Heyer did his first two years. But, as the entire baseball world witnessed, the light came on in June.
So K-Wade is your ace and James Farris moves up to the #2 starter role. This is another guy who could have seen his confidence waiver but, with a championship on the line, his teammates wanted him to have the ball.
“It was huge,” Farris said of support from players like Alex Mejia and Robert Refsnyder. “It gave me a lot of confidence going into that last game.”
The sophomore knows even more will be expected of him next year.
“I gotta get better,” he said. “I’m never going to plateau in this program. This program’s built to always go up the mountain and get better and better and better.”
Who will be the Sunday starter? The early leader might be Tyler Crawford who started two games in 2012 and turned in extended outings in middle relief.
It could also be Mathew Troupe, the winner of the series-clincher out of the bullpen. It’s easy to point to the freshman’s strong showing as a starter against Arizona State on May 16 as the game that turned things around for him.
Troupe says he’s ready for anything next year.
“I love the closer role,” he said. “I did a little bit of everything this year: long relief, closing and starting. Whatever the team needs next year, I’ll do it.”
The bullpen and midweek starts shouldn’t cause nearly as much anxiety next year with plenty of experience available. Tyler Hale and Stephen Manthei combined to win eight games this year and will be seniors next spring. Freshman Lucas Long will be back with three starts and a couple wins under his belt along with the new arms that come in ready to be the next Troupe or Crawford.
Moore expects the men on the mound to help the Arizona hitters.
“Our pitching’s going to keep us in every game which gives a relaxing feel to our offense,” he said. “If we just relax and be ourselves I think we’ll be just fine.”
The most stable aspect of 2013 is Andy Lopez will be back to run the program for his 12th year at Arizona – his 31st overall – and the coach will be approaching the new season like all the others.
Even after two full decades Lopez never stopped believing he’d win another championship.
“I don’t think coaches think that way,” he said. “I think we’re going to get a chance to win it every year.”
“I never thought we wouldn’t do it but I knew we had to get there and we had to get there with the right group,” Lopez continued. “And obviously this was the right group.”
What goals will the two-time College World Series champion set for the 2013 Wildcats?
“When we start practice next year I’ll talk about winning the national championship.”
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Bonus quotes from Tuesday’s celebration at McKale Center:
On preparing to start game two of the championship series:
“I’m turning everything off. No electronics. Except for Workaholics. I watched Workaholics that whole morning.”
On the self-induced bases-loaded drama Monday night:
“In the ninth inning the nerves kind of kicked in (and I) gave everyone a little bit of a heart attack I’m sure. But Mejia and Riley Moore settled me down, Coach came out to talk to me and I had a little bit more poise on the last couple batters.”
On his goggles flying off after a pitch:
“That was actually the first time that happened. I was praying Riley didn’t throw me the ball. If he threw me the ball there was no chance I would’ve caught it. It would’ve gone into the outfield and the runners would’ve scored.”
On catching 64 of 65 games:
“The legs get tired, the arm gets tired, the body gets tired but you fight through it. It got tiring up until postseason. The postseason’s like a rebirth. You’ve got that extra fire in you. You’re ready to go.”
On the freshmen’s role in the championship:
“I would hardly consider us freshmen right now. What we’ve been through with Lopes, the whole program, spending a year in that, it’s hard to be considered a freshman.
“Troupe and Gilbert showed a lot of poise, doing what they’re expected to do. It was real good to see that out of them. They’ve got a bright future coming.”
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