Arizona baseball saves the best for last (& links)

June 21, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Andy Lopez (7) gives the thumbs up after defeating the Florida State Seminoles in game eleven of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Arizona won 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona men's basketball team flopped in the postseason. The football team fired its head coach and hit a low unseen for a decade. Mike Candrea's softball squad came on toward the end of the year but in a rare occurrence missed out on the Women's College World Series.

Aside from some solid performances from the track and field team and the usual swim and dive dominance, the 2011-12 season for Wildcat athletics didn't reach the usual expectations.

But wait for it ... Here stands Andy Lopez's baseball team, the last team to finish its season and one on the cusp of a national championship.

They saved the best for last, and it's a storybook ending for a year that across the board was otherwise forgettable, at least in the snobby relativity of what we've come to expect from most of Arizona's teams.

The Wildcat baseball team (46-17) hasn't slipped a bit this postseason, making the regional round look like cake, the Super Regionals look like they were playing with opponent St. John's and three College World Series games look just the same.

There's no obvious formula other than fortitude and sound baseball, no superstar player who had MLB teams licking their lips.

Pitcher Kurt Heyer can give up 10, 11, 12, even 17 runs without concern crossing his face and without his team backpedaling. The defense doesn't make mistakes. The offense steals bases and plays, until a two-home run fourth inning on Thursday, without the long ball in a controlled aggression.

So Arizona faces either resilient South Carolina or Arkansas to open the championship series on Sunday after the Gamecocks and Razorbacks play one another in an elimination game today. Whichever squad that comes out victorious get two days rest to the Wildcats' three, a disadvantage for opponents that's been generous to UA's pitching staff more than anyone else.

Watching the Wildcats play hasn't made the daunting task of cruising — let alone winning enough to stay alive — through the College World Series appear difficult.

And nobody knows if Arizona will finally get smacked in the face come Sunday or Monday.

But they're there, and in the realm of Arizona athletics, Lopez and his team have already made a season that looked promising from the preseason into the biggest success story of the year.

Links

  • ESPN's Jason King writes that Andy Lopez further legitimizes his claim to recruits when he tells that they'll go to the College World Series. And the Wildcats are doing it with smart baseball.
  • Ryan Finley's recap discusses Arizona's dominance. But why are they so dominant? Maybe because Arizona's best players are playing like they don't know they're blowing teams out of the water.
  • Finley's Seen and Heard from Omaha. Turns out FSU's use of eight pitchers was the most by a team in the CWS. And we're surprised Finley left out the apparent confiscation of a blow-up doll.
  • Baseball America's recap believes the turning point happened with Arizona second batter of the game. Johnny Field chopped a ball to FSU pitcher Brandon Leinbrandt, who threw it to second ... sort of. The error started a furious 6-0 first inning for the Wildcats.
  • The story from the Seminole side of things; they got "taken to the woodshed," says coach Mike Martin.
  • A look at the night game of South Carolina and Arkansas, where the Gamecocks staved off elimination with a 2-0 victory against the Razorbacks to force a final elimination game tonight.

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