In the days leading up to the College World Series, the Wildcats bullpen was a hot topic. The starting pitchers appeared to be in good shape, but the same wasn’t being said about the bullpen. If anything, many viewed the Arizona bullpen as a glaring weakness that could keep this team from competing for a national title.
At least on this opening night in Omaha, the stereotype surrounding the Arizona bullpen certainly wasn’t true. What actually occurred was the opposite.
The Arizona bullpen duo of Tyler Crawford and Mathew Troupe was outstanding, as the Wildcats secured an impressive 4-3 12-inning win over Florida State to advance to Sunday’s winner bracket game against familiar foe UCLA.
"With the two starting pitchers competing like that, I'm really proud of our two freshmen coming out of the pen and having a combined no walks," Arizona coach Andy Lopez said. "That was so crucial against Coach Martin's club. It's a really good one to win."
Going into the contest against the Seminoles, the Wildcats desperately needed yet another strong start from right-handed ace pitcher Kurt Heyer. And though he labored at times in the game, he put together a solid start, striking out eight and allowing just three runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings of work.
Still, even with that type of start, it was the Wildcats bullpen against that of Florida State. Though the Seminoles aren't historically known for having a strong bullpen, it has been a much different story this season, with relievers Gage Smith, Hunter Scantling and right-hander Robert Benincasa each entering the game with earned-run averages below four in 29 or more appearances.
Compare that with Arizona's combo of Crawford and Troupe, who had a combined 35 appearances this season entering the College World Series.
"It has been kind of a Catch 22 [with the bullpen]. The starters have done such a marvelous job, but people will say you're not using your bullpen. When a guy is good like that, what are we doing taking him out?" Lopez said. "I understand the balance of it all, but I really felt like these guys [Crawford and Troupe] would be ready to go. Their bullpens have been pretty intense."
After Heyer's day was finished, the Wildcats turned things over to the Crawford, the talented left-hander. He didn't disappoint, allowing just one hit in 1 2/3 innings to bridge the gap between Heyer and Troupe, who has recorded six saves.
Troupe was even more impressive. Though the righty has gone through some trials this season, he had been impressive the past few weeks from the Arizona State series until now. During that span, he recorded nine strikeouts and allowed just one run in 9 2/3 innings.
“I thought Troupe did a really nice job commanding his fastball. He did an outstanding job and had a little movement,” Lopez said. “He stayed predominantly fastball. He was like that earlier in the year, hit a blip on the screen, and has been back the past few innings.”
It was easy to see how Troupe embarked on that impressive streak lately against the Seminoles. He commanded his fastball well throughout his 2 2/3 innings of work. He even threw somewhat of a cut fastball, though, Troupe admittedly can't remember the pitch in the final at-bat of the game to Florida State second baseman Devon Travis.
“When I first came in here, they were beating into my head that I was pitching young. It took me kind of a while to grasp on to that,” Troupe said. “I started off pretty hot this season, started to struggle a little bit, and really just had to go over everything I had learned before. Fortunately, it helped me get to this point in the season.”
While the Seminoles clearly had an advantage in the bullpen category entering the contest, the Wildcats alleviated all concerns for the time being with a pair of clutch performances from Crawford and Troupe.
Moving forward, coach Andy Lopez will need strong starts -- as usual -- from Konner Wade and James Farris -- to go the distance in the CWS and potentially compete for the national title.
But if need be, Lopez also has the option to go with Crawford or Troupe, perhaps earlier than used in times past.
Crawford and Troupe passed their first big test in impressive fashion.
Maybe that’s a sign for the Wildcats.
GAME IN REVIEW
Player of the Game: RHP Mathew Troupe, Arizona -- With the game on the line, the Wildcats looked to the talented freshman reliever for guidance. Troupe, of course, didn’t disappoint. He struck out three batters and allowed just one hit in 2 2/3 innings of work to close out the game. The win was Troupe’s fifth of the season.
Unsung hero: LHP Tyler Crawford, Arizona -- Though fellow freshman Matthew Troupe deserves much credit for closing out the game in impressive fashion, also give credit to Crawford for helping get to that point. Crawford struck out a batter and allowed just one hit in 1 2/3 innings of work after starting pitcher Kurt Heyer was lifted from the game.
Game was over when: With the Arizona bullpen performing at an extremely high level, it was thought the Wildcats would have the game if they could score a run at some point. Well, the Wildcats got an RBI double from red-hot Johnny Field in the 12th to go up 4-3. They didn’t look back.
What’s next: After taking care of Florida State in the opener, the Wildcats now have the tough chore of facing a UCLA club they’re 1-2 against this season. Arizona will send Konner Wade to the mound against the Bruins. Wade has been solid in his two postseason starts. He allowed just two earned runs in eight innings against Louisville before allowing just two earned runs in a complete game performance against St. John’s. Meanwhile, FSU will face Brandon McNitt and Stony Brook in the loser’s bracket game. The Seminoles will go with another freshman pitcher, Mike Compton, against the Seawolves. Compton had a good first start in the postseason against Samford, but was lifted after four innings last week against Stanford.