TUCSON, Ariz. -- This was the one instance when it really wasn't necessary for University of Arizona right-handed Friday night starter Konner Wade to answer the bell.
It was mid-afternoon last Saturday (March 16) and Wade walked out of the Wildcats' clubhouse at Hi Corbett Field only about 16 hours after experiencing his first loss of the 2013 season. His only obligation was to speak with Perfect Game about the highly successful two-plus years he has labored at the U of A and, quite frankly, PG would have understood if he didn't feel like talking.
The previous night, in his new role as the Wildcats' Friday night staff ace, Wade got roughed-up by No. 5-ranked Oregon State to the tune of six earned runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings in a 6-2 loss to the Beavers in the Pacific-12 Conference opener for both teams.
Yes, it would have been perfectly understandable if Wade had turned down the interview request, but instead he stood tall and talked confidently about he and his teammates' determination to return to June's NCAA Division I College World Series and defend the championship they won so impressively in 2012.
"As a team, I think we're going to keep growing as the season progresses," Wade said. "Individually, I feel like I need to improve on a number of different things -- my fastball location (and) my changeup. I think that will come with time, the same with our defense and our hitting, and that will play itself out as the season goes on."
With the rough outing, Wade's record dropped to 2-1 and his ERA rose to an unrecognizable 4.41 after five starts and 34 2/3 innings. He had allowed 38 hits and struck out 21, and had issued only six walks, an excellent strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
Oregon State went on to sweep the weekend series from Arizona, which fell to 15-8 overall (0-3 Pac-12) and dropped out of the Perfect Game National Top 25 after being ranked No. 23 last week. There is a long way to go, of course, and with leaders like Wade and Saturday starter (No. 2) James Farris, the Wildcats and head coach Andy Lopez think they can be in position to make another run toward a title.
"Wade and Farris gained a lot of important experience in Omaha last year, and they've kind of carried that confidence into this season," Lopez told PG's Kendall Rogers last week.
Wade is a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder who threw 90 mph fastballs at a couple of Perfect Game events in 2009 just in front of his senior year at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz. But his ability to throw strikes -- he had walked only 62 batters in 232 2/3 innings in his U of A career after Friday's outing -- that has set Wade apart and earned him the promotion to staff ace.
He was 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA in 17 appearances (eight starts) as a freshman in 2011 and walked 19 batters in 61 2/3 innings. He moved into the role of Saturday starter as a sophomore in 2012 and finished 11-3 with a 3.96 ERA and 105 strikeouts and 37 walks in 136 1/3 innings. His progression has been steady-as-she-goes and he's continued to watch and learn.
"My first year I worked about half the season in the Sunday spot, so I kind of got to see two guys go out there and see how they attacked the (opponent) and I worked off that," Wade said. "Now I've got to be the guy that sets the tone for the rest of the pitching staff and give our team some information on the other (team's) batters."
If there's added pressure in his new role, Wade is able to shrug it off.
"Really, the only pressure is what you put on yourself," he offered. "There's always going to be pressure in competitive sports but if you can minimize that, then you'll be fine."
The Arizona Wildcats' 2012 season offered the kind of drama and surprises that screenplays spring from. They finished the regular season with a 38-17 overall record and tied for the Pac-12 regular season championship with UCLA with a league mark of 20-10. They host an NCAA Regional at Hi Corbett Field and beat Missouri once and Louisville twice by combined scores of 47-10.
The Wildcats then hosted a best-of-3 NCAA Super Regional against St. John's from the Big East Conference, and needed only two games to dispose of the Johnnies. They won all five of their College World Series games -- including a 4-3, 12-inning thriller in the opener against Florida State -- and beat South Carolina twice to claim their first National Championship since 1986 and fourth overall.
Wade was sensational in the Wildcats' postseason run. He went 4-0 in NCAA tournament play (Arizona was 10-0 in the postseason) with a 1.29 ERA and 14 strikeouts and three walks in 35 innings. He saved his best for when it mattered most, pitching three nine-inning complete games in his final three starts -- one in the Super Regional in Tucson and the last two in the CWS in Omaha.
He allowed two earned runs on six hits with a pair of strikeouts and no walks in a 7-4 win over St. John's in the Super Regional, a victory that sent the Wildcats back to the CWS for the first time since 2004.
Once in Omaha Wade made two more starts, pitching a complete game five-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Pac-12 co-champ UCLA in the 'Cats' second CWS game, and then came right back to throw a complete game six-hitter in a 5-1 win over two-time defending national champion South Carolina in the first game of the best-of-3 championship series. Wade totaled seven strikeouts and only one walk in those 18 innings of CWS work, and was named to the CWS All-Tournament Team.
"It was just unreal," he said of his postseason experiences. "Just our confidence through that whole thing, and even during the times we were down we felt like we could beat anyone. The way that we were clicking at that time was something that I had never been a part of with any team, and it was really special.
"We won the Pac-12 the week before the regionals and we rode that momentum, and then in the regionals we just kind of went off," he continued. "The Super Regional was a little bit tougher, but we got through it, and then we got through that first game in Omaha and we knew that we were as good as anyone there and we had a good chance of winning."
Wade said the time he spent in Omaha was almost a blur. It's the ultimate reward for any Division I baseball player and once it's experienced it becomes the driving force for one goal and one goal only: getting back.
"That was the most exciting two weeks of my life, being treated like a celebrity, almost," he said. "Playing in front of 25,000 people every night and feeling like it's a home game, it was special. Every college baseball player's dream is to get there and being there makes you want to get back there just that much more."
Just emerging as the Pac-12 co-champion was a source of pride for the Wildcats. The Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference are generally considered the nation's strongest leagues, but the Pac-12 won't and shouldn't take a backseat to anyone. Five Pac-12 schools -- No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Oregon State, No. 16 Oregon, No. 18 Stanford and No. 19 Arizona State -- are in PG's National Top 25 rankings this week.
"The Pac-12 is a grind," Wade said with no hesitation. "People don't realize how tough it is sometimes, but there's some real good teams in the Pac-12. Week-in and week-out you're going to be playing some real good teams."
When Wade graduated from Chaparral High in 2010, Perfect Game had him ranked as the No. 125 overall prospect in his class. He participated in four PG events in 2008 and '09, including the 2008 PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 1 in Mesa, Ariz., and the 2009 PG National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
There were 20 future first-round or first round compensation draft picks at the 2009 PG National, including infielder Manny Machado who made his big-league debut with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012.
"I was excited because I was the only guy from Arizona that went to that (event) and I was able to showcase my talent against the rest of the country; I was really excited for that opportunity," Wade said. "I didn't really have an understanding of the (level) of baseball everybody played around the country and it was humbling a little bit; at the same time it gave me confidence knowing that I could play with anyone."
Wade also played at the 2009 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with the Phoenix-based Rays Scout Team. That team's roster also featured outfielder Trever Allen and infielder James McDonald, both of whom are enjoying fine careers at U of A archrival Arizona State.
"That was sweet," Wade said of the Jupiter experience. "I think (our second game) we played against a team from Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Baseball Academy) and I had never played against anyone internationally, so I loved that. Being down there in Jupiter in the middle of October and being able to go the beach was pretty good, too. And being with the top baseball players in the country is pretty special."
Despite his high national ranking, Wade wasn't drafted by his hometown team Arizona Diamondbacks until the 35th round in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Even if he had been picked in an earlier round, it would have taken a special offer to lure him away from his commitment to the U of A.
"I was drafted late, so I really didn't even think about it at all," he said. "I was pretty set on coming here to school and I'm really glad that I did. It's been a tremendous experience for me and I've grown a lot as both a baseball player and as a man. I definitely was not ready for pro ball coming out of high school, and I knew that once I got here. I couldn't be more grateful to Coach Lopez and the rest of our coaching staff and what they've done for me."
PG lists Wade as the No. 86 overall top draft prospect in the upcoming draft, a ranking that projects into the late second round. If the Wildcats can overcome their 0-3 Pac-12 start and claw their way back into the NCAA postseason, and if Wade has another postseason on-par with the one he enjoyed in 2012, his draft stock could still rise substantially.
"I try not to even think about it because that kind of takes away from what I'm trying to do here," he said, "but I would be lying if I said it didn't ever cross my mind. I try to just focus on what I can do to get this team better and get this team back to Omaha."
Wade said that looking straight into the interviewers' eyes. Feel free to ask him anything, anytime.