OMAHA, Neb. – Arizona
and South Carolina both ended Sunday night on new ground in the College World
How both teams handle
their situations for the next day – or two – will be a major factor in
determining who gets to call themselves national champion for the next year.
|Konner Wade: Logs a second straight complete-game at the CWS and limits South Carolina to six hits|
The Wildcats got a
two-run home run from Robert Refsnyder in the first inning to allow them to
exhale and a another stifling performance on the mound from Konner Wade to
derail the Gamecocks 5-1 in the opening game of the best-of-three national
championship series at TD Ameritrade Park.
Game 2 is slated for 7
p.m. Monday and the dynamics for both teams are obvious.
For Arizona (47-17),
win Monday night and claim the program’s first national championship on the
baseball diamond since 1986, which would cap an incredible late-season push by
the Pac-12 co-champions.
In the South Carolina
clubhouse, there’s an unfamiliar sense of desperation.
This is the Gamecocks’
third straight trip to the national championship series and the first time they’ve
dropped a game.
USC coach Ray Tanner
will send senior Michael Roth to the mound for the must-win game in hopes of
forcing a third game for all the marbles on Tuesday.
“It’s not where we
would want to be … but, you know, we're still playing,” Tanner said. “And you
win (Monday), you even it up and get a little momentum going in the third game.”
UA has that same goal,
of course, and there shouldn’t be any uptightness or pressure on a team that is
now 9-0 in the NCAA Tournament and has won 17 of its last 19 games since the
first weekend of May.
Then again, it doesn’t
sound like there was a lot of tension in the Wildcats dugout before or during
their first appearance in a national championship setting in 26 years.
“No jitters whatsoever,”
Arizona coach Andy Lopez said and then pulled the curtain back on a pre-game
fun fest that broke out while he was working up a pitching plan.
“God only knows what
they were doing, but it was the loudest, goofiest group of young athletes I’ve been
around in about 30 years. … They were playing some goofy game. I sat there and
went, ‘Wow, these guys are kind of loose (Sunday).”
The three Wildcats at
the postgame press gathering Lopez playfully begged out of identifying their
pre-game antics, but there was no doubt they were looser when the game began
than they had been in Saturday’s pre-series media session.
It didn’t hurt to get
two key plays in the first inning, one with a glove and with the powerful
stroke of Refsnyder’s bat.
Leadoff man Joey Pankake reached for Carolina (49-19) when his hot shot went right through third
baseman Set Mejias-Brean’s legs for just the second UA error of the CWS.
Before that ever had a
chance to bother Wade, shortstop Alex Mejia smothered a ball off Evan Marzilli’s
bat that seemed destined for center field and triggered a 6-4-3 double play.
Wade, who threw his
second masterpiece in two CWS starts with a complete-game six-hitter, struck
out Christian Walker to get the Wildcats to the plate with the game scoreless.
It didn’t stay that way
|Refsnyder: 'Sometimes you close your eyes and swing really hard, good things happen.'|
With one out, Johnny Field
yanked a base hit to left field off Gamecocks’ starter Forrest Koumas. Mejia
made the second out on a weak comebacker and Koumas was in charge against
Refsnyder with a 2-and-2 count.
On the next pitch,
though, Refsnyder tattooed a ball the other way to right-center field that kept
carrying until it cleared the outfield fence for a two-run home run and early
“The wind was blowing
out, so that helped a little bit,” Refsnyder said about his second homer of the
World Series. “I was fortunate enough to run into it. Sometimes you close your eyes and swing
really hard, good things happen.”
Refsnyder’s blast, in
the heels of the pre-game loosening-up festivities, eradicated any possibility
of the Wildcats playing tight against the battled-tested Gamecocks.
“When you get ahead in
the first inning against an opponent like that, had been there two years in a
row, this is the third, anytime you get ahead of a team, to be honest, you get
more relief, you get settled in a lot faster than you would as opposed to being
a tie game going into the ninth,” Mejia said.
Added Refsnyder, “It
helped Konner’s confidence, I'm sure, a few runs, and helped the team’s
confidence because South Carolina is two-time defending champ, and any time you
can get ahead of a team like that it’s big, because you're going to need every
run against them.”
Turned out Wade didn’t
need a whole lot more as his late-season metamorphosis climbed to another
Triggered by the
double-play ball in the first inning, Wade mowed down 15 of 16 USC hitters
through the sixth inning. He consistently pitched ahead in counts and got the
Gamecocks frustrated and chasing pitcher’s pitches.
“I can’t say enough
about my defense (Sunday),” Wade said. “They really picked me up in some big
situations. … It was huge, knowing that you can pitch to contact with this
defense behind you.”
As stout as the UA defense
was, Tanner was quick to credit the pitcher.
“We just couldn’t get
in a situation to do anything offensively,” Tanner said. “He kept making big
pitches when he needed to.”
With Wade confounding Carolina,
the Wildcats pecked away for single runs in the third and fifth frames – but
also squandered chances to blow the game completely open.
Arizona chased Koumas
in the third when Trent Gilbert led off and reached on an error, Joey Rickard
dropped a single just over the third baseman and Mejia rifled an RBI hit into
left field. After Koumas intentionally walked Refsnyder to load the bases, Evan
Beal came in and induced a 6-4-3 double play off Mejias-Brean’s bat to end the
|Evan Beal was a bright spot for the Gamecocks with 5 innings of solid relief|
Another double play
ended the UA fourth and stranded a runner at third base.
Then in the fifth, Field
walked with one out, got to second on a wild pitch and third on USC catcher
Grayson Greiner’s errant throw. Mejias-Brean made amends with a two-out single
to center field for a 4-0 cushion.
The Wildcats’ only
other run also came on a two-out hit – Bobby Brown delivering in the seventh. Arizona
stranded 11 runners, leaving the bases loaded in the eighth inning when Nolan Belcher took over for Beal and got Mejia on an infield popout and struck out
“I thought we had a couple
of opportunities we didn’t cash in,” Lopez said. “We didn't sacrifice it one
time. We had bases loaded and went double play, which goes against our teaching
philosophies. A lot of that has to do with the people on the other side of the
field, too. South Carolina made good pitches when they had to in situations.”
The Gamecocks also
squandered chances to chip away after finally finding a handful of openings in
the sixth and seventh frames.
Greiner began the sixth
inning with a double – Carolina’s only extra-base hit – but he was still there
with two outs. Marzilli finally delivered a key hit for the Gamecocks when his
roller through the middle eluded the Wildcats’ middle defense to score Greiner
and cut the deficit to 4-1.
|Game-changer: Arizona 3B Seth Mejias-Brean tags South Carolina's Adam Matthews out in the seventh inning on a throw from Robert Refsnyder|
Adam Matthews led off
the seventh inning with a solid single to left and Tyler Martin roped a second
hit to right field. With Matthews barreling around toward third base, Refsnyder
calmly scooped up the ball and fired a laser to Mejias-Brean for a 9-5
“I wasn't sure he would
throw the ball with the score at the time,” Tanner said. “I thought maybe he would
throw it to second. He had to make a perfect throw to third, and he did.”
Added Refsnyder, “I was
surprised that Matthews decided to take the extra base. The ball was hit
relatively hard through the hole.
“So I came through that
ball real hard and I really wasn't expecting Matthews to go. But I thought he kind of hesitated, so I
decided to let it rip. … It was a big momentum shift for us.”
Especially for Wade.
After that backbreaker
for Carolina, Wade settled back into the groove and got the final two outs of
the seventh. The Gamecocks went in order in the eighth and Wade shrugged off Walker’s
leadoff single in the ninth by getting the heart of the USC batting order
without any damage.
Afterward, Lopez said
he was “in awe” of Wade, who has been the best pitcher in the CWS.
“The thing about him,
and he knows this, he went through a little bit of a stretch early in the
season where he just wasn't throwing strikes,” Lopez said. “He has tremendous
arm-side sink, has a really good changeup with arm-side sink as well. So I think those strikes, he gets a lot of
swing-throughs, he also gets a lot of ground ball. They just don't square him
up very easily when he's throwing strikes.”
There were plenty of
those Sunday and now the Gamecocks are behind the 8-ball.
Just don’t expect the
two-time champion to hand their crown over to Arizona without a battle.
“We have to come out (Monday) and pretend like
nothing ever happened and go out and hopefully get a win,” Marzilli said. “That's
what we’ve gotta do. There’s no thinking about it anymore. There's no feeling
sorry for yourself after this one loss. You have to go out there and forget
about it real quick, especially in this series.”
Tanner echoed his
center fielder’s resilient attitude.
“Is it going to be
easy? Absolutely not,” Tanner said. “They’re
really, really good.
“Let’s get back on the horse and try to get a
Wade deals Gamecocks loss
Gamecocks look to regroup
VIDEO: Tanner on loss