June 25, 2012

CBI Live: Arizona 4, #8 South Carolina 1

CWS Championship Series Game 2 Notes

So Close from Afar


By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder



Editor’s 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 said.


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.