This year’s Arizona baseball season was somewhat ironic for me. The move to Hi-Corbett reinvigorated my passion for college baseball, bringing me back to the days when my dad brought my brother and I–then little pee-wees–to Sancet Stadium on a weekly basis. This year we bought season tickets again and attended the majority of the home games. The only difference between my passion as a young kid and my passion now was my weapon of choice: then it was an oversized glove, now it is an iced cold beer. The baseball cap and some sunflower seeds have never left my arsenal.
It is only natural based on the forces of irony, then, that Arizona’s magical journey to the College Championship Series fell on the exact dates my family planned a week long, technology not included river rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. My dad, brother and I agreed that had we known of this conflict in advance, we would have been in Omaha instead. As a result, I found out the amazing news after watching the games only yesterday. Hence, my report regarding the reasons why Arizona won the whole enchilada comes late, but not without the same amount of passion and excitement that comes with such a phenominal season:
College baseball is the exception to the rule that “offenses wins games but defenses win championships.” In college baseball, a good offense will win games and championships. Arizona’s offense this year was not good–it was exceptional, and by far the best offense in the CWS coming in and heading out. Arizona outscored its opponents 27-8. Who else came close to scoring 27 runs in the CWS you ask?
Noone really. Florida State had 19 due in part to a lopsided 12-2 win over Stony Brook. South Carolina also brought in 19, but played two more games than Arizona did.
Though opponents had inferior bats, critics doubted Arizona’s offense would hold up to its opponents’ superior pitching. But there is a reason why college pitchers are still in college and not in the minors/majors. In college baseball, exceptional bats will overcome solid pitching 9 times out of 10, or in Arizona’s case, 10 times out of 10.
As anyone watching ESPN during the CWS knows by now (they showed it more times than headlines regarding how Tiger Woods is doing), the dimensions of Ameritrade Park in Omaha are very similar to Arizona’s new home. Both feature big outfields with lots of space and long distances to the wall. In fact, when teams first arrived in Omaha for batting practice, most teams’ power hitters were shocked to see their bombs simply end up as routine pop-ups in the middle of the outfield. Arizona was not surprised in the slightest.
Throughout the year, Arizona slowly learned to favor the disciplined hard grounders, line drives and sacrifice bunts over the long ball. The result showed. While Arizona’s CWS opponents hit cans of corn all over the outfield, Arizona ripped singles, drove doubles to the wall and moved base runners with fundamental hitting. While Arizona knew how to defend the mega patches of outfield space, its opponents were less experienced in the “no double defense” that Arizona has incorporated all year long.
This season there was some talk of moving the Hi-Corbett walls in a little for next season. That will no longer be happening.
3. Good pitching doesn’t hurt.
Offense will win championships in college baseball, but a good defense most certainly doesn’t hurt. Starters Kurt Heyer, Konner Wade and James Farris were good in the regular season but exceptional in the CWS. The three of them gave up only seven runs in the entire CWS, or 1.4 runs per game. The bullpen, which has been the weak link of the Arizona baseball program during the regular season, came up huge in the CWS. How many runs did the bullpen give up when the game was on the line?
Zero, zilch, nada, goose eggs. And they accomplished this in some very dicey situations, oftentimes with crucial runners in scoring position (the final inning featured bases loaded with only one out. Troupe managed to get out of it).
Yup, the magic “it factor” that no stats or commentary can truly explain. The Cats simply made it happen this year religiously when it mattered the most, and on multiple occasions Arizona’s offense accepted two outs graciously as a fun challenge rather than a dreaded curse.
Though Arizona did not come into the playoffs as the favored winner, they came out of it that way, not unlike the under-the-radar-blowing-up-just-at-the-right-time 1997 basketball team that we are all a little familiar with.