June 24, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; Arizona Wildcats runner Robert Refesnyder (2) celebrates his home run during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first inning of championship finals game one of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE
The Arizona baseball team doesn't have big-time stars.
But on a Sunday night with No. 2 pitcher Konner Wade on the mound in Game 1 of the College World Series championship series, two stellar defensive plays by two of its best players aided the usual-efficient Wildcats' offense to a 5-1 victory against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Omaha, Neb.
Considering Arizona's offensive advantage (fifth in the NCAA in runs scored to USC's 64th) and South Carolina's defensive edge, those two momentum-swinging plays were absolute necessity.
After UA began the game with a Seth Mejias-Brean error during the first at-bat for the Gamecocks, a diving grab by Alex Mejia led to a double-play that quickly swung momentum back in Arizona's favor. And with a 4-1 lead in the seventh and a runner zipping to third base on a right-field hit, right fielder Robert Refsnyder gunned a throw straight to Mejias-Brean, who tagged the lead-off hitter out to avoid a no-out, man-on-third threat.
Simply put, any sign of the Gamecocks grabbing control was extinguished by the Wildcats' playmakers.
Wade continued to keep opposing defenses off balance, going the full nine innings by giving up six hits and one earned run. He threw 109 pitches, 72 for strikes, and his motion kept the Gamecock batters from getting solid knocks on his pitches, even when they were down the middle.
"When he throws strikes he's effective," Andy Lopez told ESPN's Jessica Mendoza afterward. "He's done that twice now in the College World Series."
Overall, Andy Lopez's team looked cool as usual, and an unflustered confidence flowing from every game thus far in the postseason has yet to leave the Wildcats' side.
They ended the night with 12 hits led by Refsnyder, who had a two-RBI day for the Wildcats while also scoring two runs.
More importantly, UA didn't make mistakes following Mejias-Brean's first miscue to begin the outing.
And on offense, they scored four of the five runs with two outs.
The Wildcats used Mejia's defensive play that followed as a lead-in to the bottom of the first, where another fast start gave them an advantage.
Arizona scored two runs in the first inning to jump on USC starting pitcher Forrest Koumas. Johnny Field reached second after a single and a ground-out by Mejia before Refsnyder launched a homer over the right field fence.
Striking again in the third inning, Trent Gilbert reached base on a fielding error by USC shortstop Joey Pankake then scored on a Mejia RBI single.
The Wildcats forced USC coach Ray Tanner to pull Koumas after 2.1 innings, but their bats kept rolling.
They added another score in the bottom of the fifth inning off a Mejias-Brean RBI, and while South Carolina got on the board with two outs in the sixth as Evan Marzilli knocked in catcher Grayson Greiner with an RBI single, UA answered in the seventh courtesy of Bobby Brown's hit that brought in Refsnyder.
With the victory, it's likely, though not decided, that Lopez will keep ace Kurt Heyer in his back pocket in the event of a Game 3 finale. James Farris, who hasn't pitched since the regional round, will probably get the starting nod during tomorrow's Game 2, 5 p.m. PT contest.
That shouldn't be a reason to worry for Arizona.
The Wildcats are sitting pretty and perfect in the postseason, different stars stepping up on different days and in the most important situations at that.
But the Gamecocks are two-time defending national champions and are 7-0 in CWS elimination games during the past two seasons. Experienced pitcher Michael Roth, who is one of three pitchers to win games in three different College World Series, will probably get the start for USC on Monday night.
That's enough reason to worry for Lopez and crew. Yet, as we've seen this far into the postseason, the Wildcats aren't letting statistics,nor intimidation, nor pressure beat them.