Only a few minutes after Arizona Wildcats sophomore Konner Wade pitched the game of his life last Saturday, coach Andy Lopez brought up one of Wade’s worst performances.
Something about throwing 20 balls in 22 pitches in an outing earlier this season.
That would have been a mid-week relief appearance against New Mexico State on March 21. The strike zone might as well have been a pinhole, as Wade walked four and hit two batters, allowing four runs in one inning.
And this was the same guy who pitched a complete game — with no walks — to clinch last weekend’s Super Regional against St. John’s.
“It’s exactly what you hope for from your children — that they get through the tough times; they grow,” Lopez said.
“That they understand adversity. That they understand that life isn’t fair, and that whoever told you that lied to you. because it’s not fair. It’s a grind, it’s a grind, it’s a grind.”
Wade is Arizona’s No. 2 starter and the heir apparent to the No. 1 role after junior Kurt Heyer, a sixth-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, embarks on his professional career. If they pitch well this week at the College World Series in Omaha, the Cats have a chance.
If not, well, that is a double-dose of bad news. A loss means a longer, tougher road to the championship series, which means Lopez would have to lean more on a bullpen that is the team’s weak spot.
On the other hand, if Heyer can win Friday against Florida State (6 p.m. Tucson time) and Wade can win Sunday against the UCLA-Stony Brook winner, the Cats will be off until next Thursday, in the driver’s seat in their half of the bracket. In this scenario, Arizona would have two chances to get one more win to reach the championship series.
Winning the first two games is so advantageous … and Arizona has the one-two starting punch to make that happen.
It would be a shock if Heyer delivers something other than a long, stellar performance in the opener. As for Wade, Lopez hopes he sees the steely guy he saw after the eighth inning of last Saturday’s game.
They sat together in the dugout while Arizona was batting, and Lopez said he saw a look in Wade’s eye that said, “Yeah, I gotcha.”
With the help of a big double play, Wade finished off his six-hitter in a 7-4 victory.
“He had that look a couple of times early in the season where he’s staring right through you,” Lopez said. “Not anymore.”
Wade (9-3, 4.49 ERA) used a change-up effectively against St. John’s, and that pitch has helped him make a jump from his freshman year in which he joined the rotation late in the season. He was 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA, starting eight games.
Lopez said Wade has tremendous arm-side movement on his fastball, which dives down and in to right-handers, leading to ground-ball outs when everything is working correctly.
“And he is still developing a cutter,” Lopez said.
Although the stage is getting bigger this week, Wade can build off Saturday’s performance, having survived “the grind” as Lopez always calls it.
After that wild outing against New Mexico State, Wade followed with a six-hitter at Washington, a three-hitter at Cal (so he can pitch well outside of Hi Corbett) and the Super Regional complete game.
“It was definitely a growing stage of the season,” Wade said Saturday, referring to that appearance vs. the Aggies. “It sucked when it happened, but I’m thankful for it now, because I have a lot more appreciation for moments like this.”
Another potential moment (or two) awaits.