The temperature in Tucson had hit 103 degrees during the game. But that didn’t stop 3,900 Arizona baseball fans from attending Hi-Corbett Field on Saturday to watch the Wildcats clinch a spot in this year’s Men’s College World Series.
After defeating St. John’s 9-8 yesterday, Arizona became NCAA Super Regional champions today in their 7-4 victory over the Red Storm, in a best of three series.
“It’s a college town,” Wildcats head coach Andy Lopez said. “So there should be 4,000 people in the stands. There should be people out there chanting, ‘U of A.’ There should be people standing on their feet with two strikes (on the opposing batter) and clapping their hands. The college town environment is pretty exciting.”
For the first time since 2004, the Wildcats move onto the MCWS, which begins June 15 in Omaha, Neb.
“I’ve had two sons (David and Michael) go with me to Omaha, three or four times as batboys,” Lopez said. “And now, I have to get them to shave. They have full beards at this point, and now they are going to be part of a college program in a college world series, so that’s pretty special.”
In the series clincher, Seth Mejias-Brean gave Arizona its first run on an RBI single to left, driving in Rickard who led off the game with a walk. Wildcats Bobby Brown and Joseph Maggi manufactured two more runs for their team, each hitting RBI singles in the first inning to put the Wildcats up, 3-0.
In the bottom of the first, Arizona starter Konner Wade induced three straight groundouts to end the scoreless half of the frame.
In the top of the second, Rickard repeated his last at-bat with a walk. Johnny Field singled and was driven in by Alex Mejia to make the score 4-0.
In the top half of the third, the Wildcats loaded the bases for Field, but he couldn’t cash in.
After a scoreless fourth, Danny Bethea delivered a two-out RBI in the fifth inning to get St. John’s on the board.
At the end of five, Arizona led 4-1.
In the bottom of the sixth, a Wildcats error, two groundouts and a passed ball pulled the Red Storm within a pair to make it a 4-2 ballgame.
Arizona gained two insurance runs in the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Mejias-Brean and Brown and a Riley Moore single to open the game up for the Wildcats, 6-2.
In the bottom of the seventh, St. John’s answered with a leadoff double by Jeremy Baltz, who would score on two groundouts.
Through seven innings, the Wildcats held a 6-3 lead.
In the top of the ninth, Brandon Dixon opened the inning with a single to left. Trent Gilbert walked and Rickard was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Field with one out.
Field hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Dixon, making the score 7-3.
But St. John’s would not go quietly.
Shortstop Matt Wessinger led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. Frank Schwindel then singled to right. With runners on first and third, Baltz grounded into a double play, which Wessinger scored on.
Sean O’Hare then grounded out to second to end the game at 7-4.
Wade pitched a complete game, rivaling Friday’s Arizona starter Kurt Heyer, who went 9 1/3 innings in yesterday’s 10-inning bout.
“Wade really used his changeup to keep us off-balance, and he threw it in any count,” Wessinger said. “So I think that made a big difference today.”
Wade, a sophomore, went 9 innings on 6 hits, 4 runs (2 earned), 2 strikeouts and 0 walks.
“A big reason things went the way they did is because of how well Arizona defended the field,” St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “That’s the bottom line. They were much better defensively than we were. Their infield defense made clutch plays, didn’t allow us to get started early in the game and made some big plays at the end. When you catch the ball the way they do, it’s amazing.”
“They are the most talented team we’ve played all year, in terms of athleticism and defensive energy. They kept the pressure on us offensively, they are well-coached and can handle a bat.”
Arizona will take on either Stanford or Florida State in the MCWS. The Seminoles blew out Stanford yesterday, 17-1.
“There were 3,900 people out there today, and it was hot,” Lopez said. “So I really want to say a big thank you to the community of Tucson. I thank them for weathering the heat to back a bunch of young guys who are real good people and work real hard.”