Arizona's three-game romp through the Tucson Regional of this NCAA tournament has to have Andy Lopez's Bat 'Cats feeling pretty good.
UA scored a combined 47 runs and won by margins of 11, 11 and 13 in its contests vs. Missouri and Louisville. The warm fuzzies don't stop with past production, either. St. John's upset perennial powerhouse North Carolina to advance from the Chapel Hill Regional, all but assuring Hi Corbett hosting privileges for the Super Regional. Meanwhile, UA accomplished something this weekend St. John's could not during Big East Conference play by defeating Louisville twice.
Omaha seems closer than ever, right?
Well, not exactly. Baseball is a fickle game, and the Johnnies are the new It team. That whole marathon-not-a-spring ideology applies to this team, racing down the home stretch full speed at the right time.
St. John's didn't luck its way into the NCAA tournament field. Johnnies stormed (yes, pun intended) into the bracket by winning the Big East tournament. The Red Storm sewed up the automatic bid, defeating USF in its own backyard. St. John's may likely have to come to make an out-of-the-way detour on its quest for Omaha, but it's a team that knows something about winning in hostile territory.
Indeed, that came into play for its unblemished run through Chapel Hill. After walloping East Carolina in its first outing, the Johnnies took two from host UNC. St. John's had to both rally, and fend off the Tar Heels in Saturday and Sunday's wins. The former punctuated how incredible the last two weeks have been for this team, with Danny Bethea hitting a three-run shot in the ninth inning off the Heels' All-American reliever, Michael Morin.
Momentum isn't tangible, and is difficult to convey through a mathematic equation. But to discount its impact on the sport is a grave miscalculation -- just ask the St. Louis Cardinals.
If any team has an Uncle Mo comparable to St. John's, it's UA. PerfectGame.org had the Wildcats teetering for a regional host selection after dropping their series against Oregon to start May. Since then though, UA has ripped off 11 of 13. The offensive exhibition put on at Hi Corbett over the weekend was the culmination thus far.
While the Wildcats' offensive output in the regional is eye popping, the steady pitching UA got from Kurt Heyer, Konnor Wade and James Farris was crucial. UA used big middle innings through each of its three wins, and had breathing room to do so with the pitching and defense keeping the opposition at bay.
An encore is necessary against a Johnnies lineup that features three batters with on-base percentages over .400, most notable of which is speedy Matt Wessinger. He has 34 stolen bases on the season, and his ability to get something from nothing supplements St. John's run manufacturing. One such instance was his turn of a shallow outfield hit, a single for most other batters, into a double vs. UNC on Saturday. That produced St. John's first run.
For more on St. John's leading up to the Super Regional, visit Rumble in the Garden.