OMAHA, Neb. – To end a
champion’s reign takes a superlative effort and this year in college baseball,
some dose of the truly unexpected.
Arizona got exactly
that level of effort for two days – especially on the mound – and three
unlikely heroes coming through in the clutchest of situations in Game 2 of the
College World Series national championship series.
As a result of that
recipe, the Wildcats are the 2012 college baseball national champions after a
gritty 4-1 triumph against South Carolina to complete a two-game sweep in the
UA (48-17) claimed its
first national crown since 1986 and joined a very elite group of programs with
at least four championships: Southern California (12), LSU (6), Arizona State
(5), Cal State Fullerton (4) and Miami (4).
With Monday’s clincher,
UA coach Andy Lopez won a national title 20 years after he led Pepperdine to
the top – the longest span between crowns for a coach in NCAA history. Lopez
also joined Texas coach Augie Garrido as the only men who have guided two
different teams to national championships.
|Wildcats starting pitcher James Farris had South Carolina tied in knots for 6 innings in a surprise start|
Carolina’s bid for a
third straight national championship and a piece of history came up short, as
the Gamecocks could never completely light the fuse offensively and scored only
two runs total in the two losses.
“We battled hard,” USC
coach Ray Tanner said. “We did everything possible to win (Monday) except come
up with a few more hits.
“We just didn’t get
enough runs on the board and they pitched really well against us and played
Arizona’s James Farris
was the main reason why Monday, as the Wildcats’ No. 3 starter came off a
22-day hiatus and was spectacular to keep the game close while USC’s Michael Roth added to his CWS legend with another sterling performance.
The Gamecocks (49-20)
scratched out only two hits off Farris, three in the game, and didn’t advance a
base runner into scoring position until the seventh inning.
made him one of the heroes, but he needed company for Arizona to complete the
story and he got plenty of company in an eventful ninth inning.
The Gamecocks knotted
the score 1-1 in the seventh when a leadoff walk to Christian Walker yielded
the tying run after Adam Matthews chopped a hit-and-run single through the
right side and Kyle Martin chased in Walker with a 3-1 groundout.
|Arizona's Robert Refsnyder goes airborne as he scores the go-ahead run in the 9th inning in Monday night's 4-1 victory.|
With Carolina closer
Matt Price out for his third inning of work, UA right fielder Robert Refsnyder
led off the ninth by lashing a single to left field, his second hit of the game
and fourth in the championship series.
bunted Refsnyder into scoring position, prompting Tanner to intentionally walk
Bobby Brown to set up a potential double play.
Sophomore Brandon Dixon
– a defensive replacement at first base in the sixth inning – stepped in with a
.240 batting average and 13 RBIs all season. But when Price came inside with
his patented slider, Dixon turned on it and yanked it just fair inside the
third-base line to send Refsnyder dashing home with the go-ahead run.
Lopez admitted after
the game that he nearly pinch-hit for Dixon.
“My first at-bat, I had
a chance to put us up by another run and I popped out to first base,” Dixon
said. “In the ninth, I got a 1-1 count and I was sitting on a slider. I got it
and rolled it over through the third-base line and got the run in.”
Suddenly trailing, Tanner
summoned left-hander Tyler Webb and he blazed three pitches past Riley Moore to
strike him out for the second out. Webb got ahead 1-and-2 against nine-hole
hitter Trent Gilbert, the lone UA regular hitting under .300, before Gilbert
delivered, pulling a soft liner into right field to score two more runs.
“I tried to keep the
game small,” Gilbert said. “I knew we had runners in scoring position and I was
just trying to get a hit. Pretty much as simple as that.”
|Hoisting the new hardware: The Arizona players lift their national championship trophy|
To nobody’s surprise, South
Carolina didn’t make things all that simple in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Walker smacked on
opposite-field single to left on Arizona reliever Matt Troupe’s first pitch of
the inning and LB Dantzler walked. Troupe struck out Matthews but walked Kyle
Martin to load the bases and bring Tanner English to the plate as the potential
English found a 1-and-1
offering to his liking and rifled a ball through the middle that seemed destined
for center field. But Gilbert soared to snare the ball and dove to the
second-base bag, almost doubling Dantzler off to end the game.
“To be honest, I
thought it was going to go through, I really did,” Lopez said. “I have so much
respect for South Carolina. I knew they wouldn’t go quietly. I just knew. I
With hearts still
pounding around the ballpark – especially in the Wildcats dugout and among the
smattering of UA fans – Troupe coaxed a shallow fly ball from Grayson Greiner
into right-center field that Refsnyder settled under and called center fielder
Joey Rickard off of, before cradling the ball for the third out and triggering
the customary dog pile I the middle of the diamond.
A national championship
dog pile, the first for the Wildcats in over a quarter of century.
“It’s not always the best
team that wins; it’s the hottest team” said Lopez, who brought two Florida teams
to Omaha as national seeds and another Arizona team in 2004. “And these guys
got hot at the right time.”
Hot enough to dismantle
a Gamecocks’ crew that overachieved just to get to Omaha and simply ran out of
offense in the final two games.
|South Carolina senior LHP Michael Roth started a CWS record 8th game and was spectacular for 7.1 innings|
South Carolina ended
the CWS hitting only .181 and scored only 16 runs in six games. In the two
championship series games, the Gamecocks were 9-for-62 (.145).
Plenty of credit goes
to Arizona’s two starters – Konner Wade threw a complete-game six hitter in the
first game of the finals series. Farris was even better.
The sophomore righty surrendered
only one hit in the first six innings, coming at the Gamecocks with breaking
pitches and getting them to chase at fastballs out of the strike zone.
With Roth being his normal
self and limiting UA to one run in 7.1 innings, Farris had to be rock-solid.
Farris was a bit of a
surprise as Lopez’s choice because ace Kurt Heyer won two earlier CWS games.
But Heyer was on only three days’ rest.
Lopez wrestled with the
decision – and his emotions – saying when he left the ballpark Sunday night,
Heyer was the likely starter.
“My thought was when I
left here, we probably need to pitch Heyer, because I knew they would be
throwing Roth,” Lopez said. “I have so much respect for Ray’s club and Roth, so
I thought ‘Let’s match it up.’ ”
Even after the decision
was made, Lopez conceded he had second thoughts.
“When I woke up
(Monday) morning I went ‘Farris against Roth: We’re probably going to be
playing on Tuesday,’ ” Lopez said. “Really. I said we’re probably going
Tuesday. We have Heyer and we’ll try to match up Heyer against somebody else.”
|Refsnyder delivers the ball he caught for the final out to Arizona coach Andy Lopez, who became the second coach to lead two programs to a national championship|
That’s a decision Lopez
won’t ever have to make, thanks to some unheralded players stepping on college
baseball’s biggest stage and delivering a Wildcat win for the ages.
With a starting lineup featuring
one senior and a core group of four junior position players, it seemed awfully
likely that somebody named Refsnyder, Rickard, Alex Mejia of Set Mejias-Brean
would come through with the biggest hit when it was needed the most.
Instead it was a
sophomore reserve and a light-hitting freshman infielder, along with a
sophomore starting pitcher and a freshman closer who finished it off.
“We just pride ourselves
on playing the game of baseball the right way, and that starts when you’re a
freshman here and you just work hard at it every day,” said Refsnyder, who was
voted the Most Outstanding Player.
“This team was all about guys stepping up
and doing whatever we needed at that moment to help us win.”
And for this moment in
college baseball time, nobody did it better than the Wildcats.
Arizona dashes hopes for three-peat
Roth, Price leave CWS legacy
- video edited by Erin Hartigan -