OMAHA, Neb. – Konner Wade recorded nine outs against UCLA in mid-April. On Sunday night at the College World Series against the Bruins, he recorded them all.
The Arizona right-hander tossed a shutout, allowing just five hits and no walks, to bring the Wildcats within one win of the championship series after a 4-0 win over UCLA.
“I got hit pretty hard the last time I pitched against them, and I knew they took advantage of the mistakes I made that game,” Wade said. “I was really eager for the opportunity to throw against them (Sunday).”
The previous start against UCLA was one to forget.
Wade gave up 10 hits, six runs (five earned) and one walk in three innings of work. He wasn’t able to control the movement on his sinker in that start, and the UCLA hitters took advantage.
The outcome was flipped on Sunday.
The sophomore had command of his sinker in the bottom of the strike zone. He came into the start with 36 walks in 118.1 innings this season. On Sunday, he became the first pitcher to throw a shutout in the College World Series without allowing a walk since 1972.
“I’ve felt good the past three weeks or so,” Wade said. “I felt comfortable with the movement I’ve had and feel like I’m starting to get more of a bearing for how much it is moving. I just tried to start it out away and let it run back over the plate.”
The Bruins loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning to earn their only two runners in scoring position of the night. Wade got Kevin Williams to fly out to left field to end the threat. Three of UCLA’s five hits came in that inning.
“He was pounding the zone in on us a lot early,” UCLA shortstop Pat Valaika said of what was different in this game than Wade’s previous start against the Bruins. “He was getting ahead in counts, and he was mixing pretty good. He’d go fastball in and slider (away).
“He was just keeping us of balance. It was a lot different from when we faced him previously. We just pounded the ball in the dirt all game.”
Behind Wade, the infield defense was sharp. The Wildcats didn’t make an error and came up with the big play when Wade needed it. After a one-out single by UCLA pinch-hitter Chris Keck in the eighth inning, Wade got a ground ball that his infield turned into a 5-4-3 double play to escape without any damage.
Arizona coach Andy Lopez expected his defense to improve after getting to Omaha. The Tucson summers, which Lopez jokingly called “a little warm,” can turn the dirt at Hi Corbett Field into what plays like concrete. The dirt dries out soon after the game starts and bounces on the infield become less predictable.
“When you come to a facility like this and it’s soft — it’s kind of nice,” Lopez said with a grin. “I think it plays to our advantage defensively. I’ve seen our guys go to other facilities like this and the game slows down for them. In a real strange way, I’m kind of glad now because it’s made our guys better infielders.”
One inning is the difference