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Thursday, June 21, 2012

CWS: Arizona on to title series

Kendall Rogers        
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OMAHA, Neb. -- It's almost mission accomplished for the Arizona Wildcats.

Before this season, the Wildcats hadn't reached the College World Series since 2004. And they certainly hadn't won a national title in many years, last winning and playing for the national title in 1986.

Therefore, this year's Wildcats junior class entered the campaign wanting to turn the tide of the program back in a positive direction with a trip to Omaha, and of course, a good trip ending with a national title.

The Wildcats still have some work to do, but they're most of the way after advancing to the CWS Championship Series with a dominant 10-3 win over Florida State. Amazingly, that's even with 15 runners left on base.

"It's exciting [to play for a national title], but that's what we came here to do," Arizona outfielder Robert Refsnyder said. "I think we're on a mission this year."

The Wildcats have gotten off to hot starts in almost every game in the postseason. They dominated the Tucson Regional before winning the Tucson Super Regional over St. John's. And in their first two games here in Omaha, they defeated Florida State 4-3 and UCLA 4-0 with a combination of good pitching, defense and some clutch hitting.

Against the Seminoles the second time around, the Wildcats played flawless baseball in every facet of the game. And they jumped on FSU early and often.

In the first inning, the Wildcats scored six runs on RBI singles from Alex Mejia and Joseph Maggie, and a sacrifice fly from Seth Mejias-Brean. However, they also were aided by a run-scoring throwing error by Florida State left fielder Jose Brizuela before freshman second baseman Trent Gllbert capped off the first with a two-RBI single.

Before Florida State could even catch its breath, this game essentially -- at least in the eyes of the press box -- seemed finished.

"They didn't give us any room to breathe, and that's a credit to Andy [Lopez] and his staff. They were very, very aggressive but very picky offensively," Florida State coach Mike Martin said. "Defensively, they were very impressive, especially if you look at their fielding percentage."

The Arizona offense set the tone for the game. After scoring those six runs in the first innings, the Wildcats added four runs of cushion in the fourth inning with a solo home run from Robert Refsnyder, two-run homer from Bobby Brown and an RBI single from leadoff hitter Joey Rickard.

With a 10-1 lead after four innings, Arizona veteran right-handed pitcher Kurt Heyer went to work and put together a veteran-like performance.

Though Heyer wasn't dominant at times, and had some flaws, such as walking three batters, he induced a lot of fly balls and ground outs, never letting the always dangerous Seminoles get into a groove from an offensive standpoint.

"I'll tell you one thing, Heyer is a Bulldog out there. He was at 122 pitches, and he would've stayed out there if needed," Martin said. "Heyer and Wade. Those are two outstanding pitchers."

Heyer struck out three batters and allowed just two runs on nine hits in 7 1/3 innings of work. Additionally, he threw 123 pitches, 75 of them for strikes.

"He's our Friday night guy, CEO, work horse. He is really easy to work with. He goes out with a pitching plan and he's as good as I've had in a while in terms of being able to apply that plan," Lopez said about Heyer. "He goes side-to-side, he's a strike thrower, he throws it into the zone. He really does understand the plan we're trying to apply."

With the win over Florida State, Arizona's grand plan and mission is almost complete. After losing an early May Sunday contest to Oregon at home to lose a crucial Pac-12 series, Lopez sat down with his team and explained to them that they're not likely to set themselves up well for the postseason unless they won every conference series the rest of the season.

Arizona finished the regular season by taking series from California, USC and rival Arizona State, earning a national seed as a result.

The Wildcats are now 8-0 in the NCAA postseason.

Safe to say Refnsyder and the junior class's mission is going as planned.

Though, there's still some unfinished business.


PLAYER OF THE GAME: DH Bobby Brown, Arizona -- The Wildcats had a huge afternoon from an offensive standpoint, and Brown led the charge. The hot-hitting designated hitter went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer, with two runs scored. He also induced three walks to help the Arizona cause. Brown entered the College World Series hitting .440 in the NCAA postseason, and has continued his hot hitting here in Omaha.

UNSUNG HERO: RHP Kurt Heyer, Arizona -- With such an offensive onslaught against the Seminoles, Heyer probably won't be the guy that gets all the credit. But what an outstanding performance the right-handed pitcher put together against the hard-hitting Seminoles. He struck out three (walked three) and allowed just two runs on nine hits in 7 1/3 innings of work. He also threw 122 pitches, 75 for strikes.

GAME WAS OVER WHEN: After Arizona starting pitcher Kurt Heyer sat down the Seminoles in 1-2-3 order in the top of the first inning, the Wildcats wasted no time taking full control in the bottom of the inning, scoring six runs on an Alex Mejia RBI single, Seth Mejias-Brean sacrifice fly, Joseph Maggi RBI single, a run on a throwing error by FSU left fielder Jose Brizuela, and they capped off the frame with a Trent Gilbert two-RBI single to left-center field. Arizona didn't look back up 6-0.

WHAT'S NEXT: With the win over the Seminoles, the Wildcats advance to the CWS Championship Series for the first time since 1986 -- a year in which they won the program's last national title. With the loss, the Seminoles end their outstanding campaign with a 50-17 overall record.

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