Before the season, Cameron Ming was in the mix to be the Arizona Wildcats’ Friday night starter.
He got the Saturday nod that first weekend at Rice, and once again the following week against Nebraska at the Tony Gwynn Classic.
In his third start of the year, Ming only lasted 1 1/3 innings against Northwestern State, allowing three earned runs in that outing, raising his season ERA at the time to 6.75.
From there, Ming spent the next three weeks making relief appearances of an inning or less as his ERA hovered around 7. He finally got the starting nod again vs. UCLA on March 26th, throwing five innings of two-run baseball.
After that, he earned four more starts in conference play, bouncing back and forth between being a weekend guy and being a middle reliever depending on the matchup that particular weekend, and if Jay Johnson felt the need to start a second lefty against the opponent.
But never before had Ming been used as a closer for this team.
Until when it mattered most.
In the postseason.
He picked up his first career save against Louisiana-Lafayette, tossing 3 1/3 innings of shutout baseball just a day after recording two outs against Sam Houston State. That first save also sent Arizona into the Super Regional round.
Then in that Starkville Super Regional, Ming got his second save while getting the final out of the Dalbec/Power Outage game. And then in Game Two, he pitched the final two innings, eventually getting credit for the win.
"It’s interesting," he said of taking on the new role before the team left for Omaha. "I’ve kind of been tossed around a lot of roles throughout the year. I like every role. I don’t really care. I’m not picky. I trust Coach (Dave) Lawn. He knows how to use me so I just have to embrace it and give it everything I have."
Now in Omaha, Ming pitched in each of Arizona’s first four College World Series games, and was the final Wildcat pitcher in all of those games.
In the first three outings, it was a more traditional closer role, throwing five total innings against Miami, Oklahoma State and UC-Santa Barbara. He only gave up two hits and zero runs in those three games.
"I think my personality suits closing," he said after the UCSB game. "When I get in to pitch, I’m a pretty intense dude. I don’t like starting that much, even though I’m ready to do whatever it takes for this pitching staff to roll, but I like coming out of the ‘pen more for sure, and I’m kind of on a roll right now."
"I love the adrenaline," Ming continued. "I do empty out the tank a lot more out of the 'pen, but my arm feels great. I have an arm that allows me to bounce back when I only throw one or two innings every game with a day off in between, so I can bounce back pretty easily, so it works."
Then the Friday OSU game happened. With Nathan Bannister forced to exit with forearm tightness, and Kevin Ginkel struggling with command, Arizona turned to Ming in the fifth inning. And once again, he was able to finish the game.
"It’s a special effort," Jay Johnson said after that particular game by Ming.
"When (Bannister) came out of the game, I wanted to give him and our team the best," Ming added. "You kind of have to not think about it as much as it sucks that Banni came out early. You kind of have to set that aside and keep working as a pitching staff."
Now with Bannister likely shelved for the Championship Series, Ming may have to take on the starting role he doesn’t like as much on Tuesday. It seems like Arizona would go with JC Cloney on Monday, who threw seven innings and 95 pitches against UCSB on Wednesday. Then Ming, with his 111 pitches total since Wednesday, might get the ball Tuesday.
Either way, I think Ming has been this team’s MVP in Omaha, and if they are to win a fifth National Championship, he will be a big reason why that happens.