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OMAHA, Neb. -- Arizona was well aware of what stood between it and the program's first national title since 1986.
South Carolina's Michael Roth and Matt Price.
For the last two seasons, both Roth and Price dazzled the crowds at Rosenblatt Stadium, and now TD Ameritrade Park. And on this night, the Wildcats were one win away from claiming the national title after winning the series opener. But to capture that magical trophy, they had to get through two of the most decorated pitchers in College World Series history.
And they did.
Using familiar clutch hitting and a typically great starting pitching performance by right-hander James Farris, the Wildcats captured their fourth national title with a thrilling 4-1 win over the Gamecocks, who had won back-to-back titles and were aiming for a three-peat.
"I have to pinch myself sometimes. I thought I was dreaming," said Arizona outfielder Robert Refsnyder, who caught the final out of the game. "You dream about it. Through six-o-clock workouts, to blood, sweat and tears, it's the ultimate goal of college baseball. It's everything I expected ... and more."
Arizona's run through the CWS will remembered a lot of ways. It will be remembered by the outstanding defensive plays by infielders such as third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean, shortstop Alex Mejia and freshman second baseman Trent Gilbert. But perhaps more than anything else, it'll be best remembered by an outstanding crop of pitching performances.
After watching sophomore starting pitcher Konner Wade dominate the Gamecocks with another complete game effort in the CWS Championship Series opener on Sunday, Arizona coach Andy Lopez had a tough decision to make.
Knowing the Gamecocks were starting the unflappable and iconic Michael Roth, Lopez felt strongly -- before leaving the ballpark on Sunday -- that he'd start ace right-hander Kurt Heyer against the Gamecocks. After all, the Wildcats needed to start their best against the Gamecocks' best.
His emotion turned to logic upon returning to the team hotel.
"I thought at the time, let's match it [Roth]," Lopez said. "By the time I got back to the hotel that attitude dissipated. Logic says James had been throwing great in our bullpen sessions, and our pens are pretty intense. Farris was ready to pitch.
"I went Farris against Roth, I'm thinking we're probably going to be playing on Tuesday. I figured we have Heyer and we'll try to match up with someone else," he continued. "It's nothing against James. I brought him out in front of the group [at practice] and said this guy has been passed over, but I said he'll be ready to pitch and he'll get a chance to pitch before it's all said and done."
It's safe to say Farris made the best of his opportunity. The sophomore right-hander, who only made two appearances and almost left the program after his freshman campaign last season, couldn't have been much better.
"Farris is a tough kid. He could've pouted, whined, or whatever about us throwing Kurt the last time out, but he was really prepared, and he was a good example to young people that if you don't get an opportunity the first time, keep working hard," Refsnyder said. "I talked to him before the game and just knew that something special was going to happen."
From the start, Farris, who hadn't pitched since June 3rd against Louisville in the Tucson Regional, was loose, relaxed and showed off a fresh arm. He had a relatively clean first inning, only allowing one walk. And from the final batter of the first frame until the second batter of the fourth inning, he retired nine straight, not allowing his first hit until LB Dantzler singled in the fourth.
Farris proceeded to retire seven-straight hitters after allowing that hit to Dantzler, setting the stage for freshman closer Mathew Troupe to close out the game.
"Farris matched up with a legend tonight," Lopez said. "He matched him inning-by-inning. I'm just looking forward to him being a junior next season."
Farris received a no decision in the contest after allowing a run in the seventh inning to make it 1-1, but certainly did his job. He finished the game with four strikeouts and allowed just one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings of work.
"He kept us off balance. He was working away most of the night and he had his fastball," South Carolina outfielder Adam Matthews said. "He was hitting his spots with the fastball and had good fodder to go along with it. He was tremendous for them."
While Farris' performance headlined the night, much credit also should go to South Carolina starting pitcher Michael Roth, who pitched into the seventh inning and allowed just one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings.
With both starting pitchers out of the game into the latter innings, it came down to the South Carolina and Arizona bullpens -- Matt Price and Tyler Webb and Mathew Troupe.
Arizona, in what had been uncharted waters in Omaha the past few seasons, touched up Price for three runs in the top of the ninth inning with the game tied. The Wildcats scored runs on a go-ahead RBI double by sophomore Brandon Dixon, who was hitting .252 entering the CWS. They got a pair of much-needed insurance runs when talented freshman Trent Gilbert hit a two-RBI single off Webb to extend the Wildcats' lead to 4-1.
Troupe, a freshman, closed things out in the ninth, but not without some tense moments. He loaded the bases with one out before getting a line out to Gilbert at second base on a fantastic play, and getting the game clincher -- a fly ball, ironically, to Refnsyder in right field.
"God Bless Him, but how many times have we seen Matt Troupe do what he did tonight? That son of a gun can load the bases as quick as any human being I've ever coached," Lopez said. "I don't think he's ever been clean, but he got us out of it OK."
Once the euphoria of recording the last out and winning the national title subsided for just a few minutes, several Arizona players -- many from this outstanding junior class -- traded hugs, some laying down in disbelief in the outfield, others locking arms to watch a highlight of their magical run on the TD Ameritrade Park video screen.
Though it hasn't been the case in the past, Arizona coach Andy Lopez loved coaching this team. He enjoyed putting on that uniform each day, this national title win validated even more by knocking off the back-to-back champs.
Before the championship series, Lopez told his team you throw one party, or you don't throw any parties at all.
The Wildcats got past Roth, Price and the Gamecocks.
The party here and in Tucson is only beginning.
GAME IN REVIEW
PLAYER OF THE GAME: RHP James Farris, Arizona -- The talented right-handed pitcher hadn't thrown in 22 days, but was phenomenal against the Gamecocks. He struck out four batters (walked two) and allowed just one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings of work. He also threw 95 pitches, 64 for strikes. The Wildcats couldn't have received a much better start from Farris.
UNSUNG HERO: 2B Trent Gilbert, Arizona -- Few freshmen on this stage in college baseball are consistently able to excel. But that can't be said about Gilbert. In the most clutch of situations in the ninth inning against the Gamecocks, he rose to the occasion. The Wildcats scored the go-ahead run to go up 2-1 when Brandon Dixon hit an RBI double. But Gilbert came up to the plate and landed the knockout blow with a two-RBI single to make it 4-1. Gilbert also made some terrific plays in the field for the Wildcats.
IF WAS OVER WHEN: The Wildcats got several outstanding performances that contributed to the victory, but the game only was truly over in the ninth inning when they got those two big hits from Brandon Dixon and Trent Gilbert. Though closer Mathew Troupe made it interesting in the made it interesting in the bottom half of the ninth inning, the Wildcats never truly felt they'd lose. That was such a defining moment in the contest.