It’s not easy to handicap the College World Series. It’s baseball. It’s double-elimination. Everything you think you know can be wrecked by the variance of small sample sizes.
Arizona Wildcats coach Andy Lopez, who is taking his fifth team to Omaha, won it all with Pepperdine in 1992 when he was seeded seventh in the eight-team field.
His 1998 Florida team was seeded No. 1 … and promptly went home after losing its first two games.
So, who knows what will happen?
Well, Lopez knows he likes the Cats’ chances for two reasons.
“One, they like to compete,” he said. “And, two, they like to compete.”
Beyond that … play ball.
Arizona finished the sweep of St. John’s in a best-of-three Super Regional at Hi Corbett Field on Saturday afternoon, getting a six-hitter from sophomore Konner Wade. That came a day after Kurt Heyer went 9 1/3 innings in a 7-6 victory in 10 innings. Lopez has turned to his bullpen for 1 2/3 innings in five postseason games.
“I don’t know how they did it,” said St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer.
“I don’t know how they are getting away with it. God bless them. God bless Andy. … You have to pull the ball out of their starter’s hand.”
Blankmeyer said he, too, likes Arizona’s chances in Omaha.
“That’s probably the most talented team we played this year when it comes to athleticism, defensive energy, and offensively, they keep the pressure on you. They don’t punch out; they command the strike zone; they handle the bat. Well-coached. They deserved to win.”
Arizona is hitting .333 as a team — .420 in the postseason. They have the kind of starting pitching needed to go far. Their defense, notably the left side of the infield with shortstop Alex Mejia and third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean, has been spectacular at times. Mejia made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays on Friday night, and he came up with two more defensive gems Saturday that rivaled that effort.
All of that tangible stuff combines with the intangible — “they like to compete” — to make this a promising trip to Omaha.
The Wildcats, with a veteran core of five drafted juniors, shouldn’t be awed by the big stage. They are unfazed when playing from behind. For a while on Friday, things looked dire when the Red Storm had a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning off Arizona ace Kurt Heyer. Arizona battled back to tie the game, only to fall behind in the top of the 10th, winning it with two runs in the bottom of the inning.
“I thought yesterday was an unbelievable example of why I think they will be OK in Omaha,” Lopez said.
“For them to take the energy and effort to come back … I went home and felt pretty good about our chances.”
Arizona took care of business. The Wildcats have survived the grind. They were Pac-12 regular-season co-champs, beating ASU on the last day of the regular season. They swept through the regional. They won the Super Regional.
Now, the message is simple:
“Enjoy the reward of being there, compete like mad men and keep playing good baseball. That’s it. In other words, really enjoy it,” Lopez said.
“There are a lot of guys who never experience what they are about to experience. The goal once we get there is to stick around for a couple of weeks, but you have to get there and really enjoy it. Life is pretty short.”