OMAHA, Neb. – Generating big offensive numbers was a distant third on the list of things the Arizona baseball team had done well to win its first two games of the 2012 College World Series.
Solid pitching and almost flawless defense had a sizable lead on the Wildcats’ bats, in fact.
The gap closed up considerably Thursday.
Arizona roared to a six-run first inning – helped greatly by three Florida State errors – and never looked back on the way to a 10-3 triumph at TD Ameritrade Park in the CWS semifinal round.
The Wildcats (46-17) punched the first ticket to the best-of-three national championship series with the victory and will face the winner of Sunday’s decisive South Carolina-Arkansas game when the finals begin on Sunday night.
|Still waiting: Florida State's search for an elusive national championship under longtime coach Mike Martin continues after a 10-3 loss Thursday|
Florida State’s latest bid to win a national crown for longtime coach Mike Martin again fell short, with both Seminoles losses in Omaha coming to Arizona.
Unlike a taut 4-3 12-inning battle on opening night, though, this one was never in doubt after the first inning.
“Well, about the easiest way to sum it up is say we got taken to the woodshed (Thursday),” said the folksy Martin, who has coached the most CWS games without a national championship.
“Sometimes you are the dog; sometimes you're the fire hydrant. It’s just one of those situations.”
The Seminoles (50-17) ran into two Arizona explosions – the six-run fist and then four more runs in the fourth inning – and had no answer. The Wildcats racked up 15 hits in an NCAA game fourth time in the last eight, with Robert Refsnyder (3-for-5) heading up a group of five UA players with two or more hits.
Joey Rickard kick-started the Wildcats’ early onslaught when he yanked a single to left field, the first of four UA hits in the opening frame. When Johnny Field hit a first-pitch comebacker to FSU pitcher Brandon Leibrandt – looking a lot like a double play – Leibrandt airmailed the ball into center field and that error opened the floodgates.
|Arizona's Seth Mejias-Brean and Robert Refsnyder celebrate Refsnyder's 2-run home run in the fourth inning|
Alex Mejia chased in the first run with a base hit to right field and Seth Mejias-Brean pumped a bases-loaded fly ball to center field to give the Cats a 2-0 lead.
Instead of slamming the door there, Leibrandt walked Bobby Brown to reload the bases after a double steal, Joseph Maggi dumped a single into left field that Jose Brizuela mishandled and then threw in the dirt to the plate for two errors.
Two runs scored for a 4-0 lead and that ended Leibrandt’s day. Luke Weaver took over and fanned Riley Moore for the second out. But nine-hole hitter Trent Gilbert rammed a single to left field to finish off the six-run inning.
Six runs is a big inning under any circumstances. With UA veteran Kurt Heyer on the mound, that quick start was magnified.
“Any time you get a really big lead with Kurt, it's a really good feeling,” Refsnyder said. “It has been ever since I've been a freshman. Every time you get a couple of runs, especially six runs, especially on a bunch of uncharacteristic errors by Florida State, it helps our confidence and everything like that.”
The Seminoles tried to chip away against Heyer and got at least one hit in each of the first four innings. They broke through for a run in the fourth when Justin Gonzalez roped a double to right field to score Jayce Boyd, who started the inning with a hit.
|Kurt Heyer nabbed his 13th victory with 7.1 solid innings|
Even that inning finished with frustration, though, as Heyer got the next two outs with a runner in scoring position – a common theme as FSU was 1-for-14 in those situations, 0-for-11 vs. Heyer.
Heyer (13-2) gave up nine hits and walked three, but the only other run came in the seventh in Boyd’s sacrifice fly. In 154 innings this season, Heyer has surrendered 151 hits but his ERA is 2.24.
“It kind of just happens,” Heyer said of the high hit total. “I’ve got a great defense behind me. I’ll give up a leadoff hit and we’ll turn a double play and then I’ll be out of the jam.”
Added Martin, “That Heyer is a bulldog.”
Once Heyer escaped trouble in the fourth inning, the Arizona offense soon made sure he had a lot more breathing room after that.
After Mejia flied out to start the Gamecocks’ fourth inning, Reysnyder cranked a solo home run into the left-field bullpen – the Cats’ first extra-base hit in the tournament, and an icebreaker as it turned out. Mejias-Brean yanked a double into the left-fielder corner and Brown deposited a 2-and-0 Weaver pitch into the right-field bullpen for another home run and a 9-1 cushion.
“I just had a 2 0 count and saw a nice fastball middle in and put a short stroke on it,” Brown said. “That's been kind of our mentality the whole year and everything.
"Getting big really does help the team out, kind of settles out the whole team, and Kurt pitched well from there and it just worked out well for us.”
Hard to imagine things working out any better for Arizona, which will play for a national championship for the first time since winning the 1986 national crown.
“What they’ve accomplished – and they’re not done yet, I hope – but what they gotten done to this point is basically what we strive for every day,” Wildcats coach Andy Lopez said. “We talk about Omaha every day.”
That conversation will last a few more days now.
GAME 10: South Carolina 4, Kent State 1