OMAHA, Neb. – National Champions. For 26 years, that title has gone to a school other than Arizona, including South Carolina both of the last two years. The College World Series trophy is making the journey back to Tucson, after the Wildcats went 10-0 in the postseason to get it, capping off the run with a 4-1 closeout of the Gamecocks Monday night.
Arizona took the first game of the championship series Sunday night, 5-1, making Monday night an elimination game for the Gamecocks, South Carolina’s third of the CWS and seventh stretching back through their previous two championship runs.
“It’s disappointing tonight,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “We did everything possible to win tonight except come up with a few more hits.”
The Gamecocks won all of those games with a combination of pitching combination Michael Roth and Matt Price, who sealed their legacies as two of the greatest CWS pitchers in history, with Roth holding the all time wins record and Price tying the record for the most appearances by a pitcher in a World Series.
None of that mattered against Arizona, who came up with key hits when they needed them and rock solid pitching from James Farris, who had not started since the NCAA regional championship game on June 3, a 22 day layoff while Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade pitched two times each in the postseason.
“My thought was, when I left here (after Sunday night’s win), we probably needed to pitch Heyer,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said. “By the time I went back to the hotel, I went back to logic. The logic says James has been throwing great. He was ready to pitch.”
Unlike Sunday’s game, in which a Robert Refsnyder put the Wildcats on top early, a lead they would not vanquish, Arizona had to earn this victory, only getting one run and three hits off of Roth in 6 2/3 innings of work.
In the first six innings of the game, Roth retired the Wildcats in order four times. The two exceptions came on a Refsnyder single in the fourth and a leadoff double for freshman Joe Maggi in the third, which would eventually lead to the first score of the game for the Wildcats, on a Trent Gilbert RBI groundout to first base.
Arizona rode their 1-0 lead and the pitching of Farris, who went 7 2/3 innings with 95 pitches and 65 strikes, giving up just two hits and the lone run, a Kyle Martin RBI groundout that scored Christian Walker from third.
With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth, it was Arizona defensive sub Brandon Dixon and freshman Trent Gilbert, who has the lowest batting average of the starting lineup at .268, who knocked clutch hits for the Wildcats.
With Refsnyder on first and senior Bobby Brown intentionally walked so Price could face Dixon, who popped out with a man in scoring position in the seventh inning, Dixon ripped an RBI double down the left field line, which scored Refsnyder and put the UA on top 2-1.
“It was amazing to get that opportunity to help the team out,” Dixon said.
Dixon and Brown were in scoring position for Gilbert, who singled to right field, but advanced to second on a botched throw. Gilbert’s hit cleared the bases and put Arizona up 4-1 with three Mat Troupe outs standing between them and a College World Series title.
“With me and some of the younger guys, I think we feel confident in those situations,” Gilbert said. “When we get a chance like that, I like our chances as well.”
Troupe made the game interesting when he faced five batters and gave up a hit and two walks to start the inning off, loading the bases for the two-time defending champs with the winning run at the plate.
Troupe forced freshman Tanner English and catcher Grayson Greiner to both pop out, ending the game and cementing Arizona’s first national championship since 1986.
“We’re very thankful,” Lopez said. “Very fortunate. Very blessed. I’m extremely, extremely fortunate to have coached this group this year.”