June 25, 2012
Arizona 4, #8 South Carolina 1
Game 2 Notes
So Close from Afar
By Sean Ryan
Note – Sean was not in Omaha, rather a fan watching from home.
Quotes are from the post-game press conference that was aired on
ESPNU or on-field interviews.
College baseball crowned its national champion
Monday night in Omaha.
It was a night that showed the purity in the
college game. A night that proved that pitching and defense,
much to the chagrin of college baseball fans of yesteryear,
rule. And a night that displayed how close Arizona and South
Carolina were: A ball a couple inches here or a couple inches
there, a coaching decision here and there, and we’d be enjoying
a winner-take-all championship game Tuesday night.
Arizona captured its fourth national title by
ending South Carolina’s two-year reign as national champion with
a 4-1 win. The Wildcats celebrated their first title since 1986
with a Cats-pile. The Gamecocks spent 727 days as college
baseball’s best team, coming two wins shy of becoming the first
team since Southern California won five in a row from 1970-74 to
win three straight titles.
“These are great ones to win and tough ones to
lose,” Wildcats coach Andy Lopez said.
Consider just how tight the 2012 finale was.
Joseph Maggi’s double to open the third inning
whispered the third-base bag before slicing into foul territory,
ruled fair by an eyelash. A bunt by freshman Riley Moore and a
RBI groundout by 9-hole hitter Trent Gilbert gave the Wildcats a
1-0 lead. Play the infield in, play the infield back? Probably a
passing thought from Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner, knowing runs
would be at a premium the way his team was swinging the bat and
the way James Farris was throwing. But not in the third inning.
South Carolina evened it up in the seventh. A
hit-and-run single from Adam Matthews put runners on the corners
– Christian Walker was slowed at second by a deke and fortunate
not to feel the wrath of Robert Refsnyder’s arm at third, like
Matthews the night before. Walker hesitated briefly at third on
Kyle Martin’s slow bouncer to Maggi at first. Had Maggi looked
home, there may have been a play to keep South Carolina off the
board. Instead, tie ball game.
The Gamecocks threatened again in the eighth.
Grayson Greiner was hit by a pitch to start the inning.
Nine-hitter Chase Vergason put down a bunt to the left side.
Third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean picked up the ball, jumped, spun
and threw across his body to second as the ball narrowly beat a
sliding Greiner to the bag.
In the ninth, Maggi’s defensive replacement
Brandon Dixon came up with runners on first and second. Guard
the line, play straight up? Dixon’s grounder hugged the
third-base line, eluding a diving Dantzler and giving the
Wildcats a 2-1 lead.
“Truth be told, we were going to pinch hit for
him,” Lopez told ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza on the field afterward.
Gilbert, who was hitting .077 with two RBI at the
College World Series entering Monday, had his second hit and
plated two more runs for a 4-1 edge.
The Gamecocks fought for another day.
“I knew they wouldn’t go quietly,” Lopez said.
South Carolina loaded the bases for Tanner
English. Play straight up, pinch the middle? English’s liner
appeared destined for center field, but Gilbert at second
speared it and nearly ended it with a dive to the bag for the
double play. Safe by some shoe polish.
“I’m just reading it off the bat there,” Gilbert
Moments later, Grayson Greiner’s fly ball
fittingly landed in Refsnyder’s glove in right, capping the
Cats’ climb to the top.
Arizona did it by beating the best the best team
had to offer. Michael Roth was splendid as always, gutting his
way into the seventh on three days’ rest. And Matt Price battled
just as much, fighting to give the Gamecocks a shot to win it in
the bottom of the ninth. Omaha has gotten to know fine pitchers:
Roth and Price arguably rank Nos. 1 and 1A as the finest.
“It was a special time, and I really can’t say
enough about how fun these past four years have been for me,”
said Roth, whose success at the next level many will question
until he proves yet again that pitching is about precision,
confidence and passion.
To reach Omaha three years in a row is special in
itself. To win two titles and have a shot at a third is
especially special. It would be far from shocking to see
Tanner’s team back in Omaha next year.
But Monday night was about the Wildcats, a team
picked second in the preseason by Pac-12 coaches, fifth by
Baseball America and around No. 20 by most other pollsters.
They didn’t lose a game in the NCAA tournament. They went 5-0
with a 1.13 in Omaha. And they yielded South Carolina but two
runs spanning two nights.
And for playing just a bit better, Arizona has a
crown to call its own.