The one question about the Arizona Wildcats baseball team: The bullpen.
No one dominant emerged. This season’s pitching staff is the reverse of Andy Lopez’s last great team. The 2008 squad had Daniel Schlereth, Ryan Perry and Jason Stoffel in the back end, and Lopez learned hard on those guys, able to get multiple innings from each to finish games.
That trio combined to throw 176 1/3 innings in 61 games.
This season, Lopez is riding his starters as long as he can. The not-so Big Three relieving crew of Tyler Crawford, Mathew Troupe and Stephen Manthei have combined for only 107 1/3 innings, also in 61 games.
But two of them came up huge Friday night in the first round of the College World Series.
Crawford and Troupe — a pair of freshman — combined to throw 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, successfully holding down the fort while Arizona finally solved Florida State’s All-American closer Robert Benincasa in his fourth inning of work.
Arizona scored in the top of the 12th on a double by Johnny Field to take a 4-3 lead, and then Troupe finished off the Seminoles. With two outs and a runner on third, Troupe fired a low fastball past Devon Travis for a game-inning strikeout.
If Arizona’s bullpen is going to be this good, then the Cats really do have a great shot to win it all.
Lopez last Monday talked about creating more game-like situations in practice to keep his relievers sharp — they had been used for only 1 2/3 innings over two weekends and five postseason games.
“It’s been a Catch 22, because the starters have done such a marvelous job, especially in postseason,” Lopez said in the postgame press conference, talking about not using the bullpen much lately.
“Many times people say you’re not using your pen. And I understand that. But when a guy is going good like that, what are we doing, taking him out? I understand the balance of it all; but as I mentioned back in Tucson, I really felt like these guys would be ready to go.
“The things they do on a day in/day out basis, and the drills we go through, our bullpen’s extremely intense. … They did a marvelous job tonight. We do not win tonight, no way, without Crawford and Troupe doing what they did.”
Like Troupe, Crawford had a huge strikeout. His came in the 10th inning. After giving up a leadoff single, Crawford had to challenge Florida State All-American outfielder James Ramsey — and Crawford struck him out.
Travis was then caught stealing … and the Seminoles’ promising scoring chance had ended.
“It’s great to see the bullpen come up clutch like they did,” junior shortstop Alex Mejia said in a video interview (below).
“Everybody is questioning them. … You know what, we all have faith in them. It’s about time they got their shot to shine.”
Let’s go the video
The Arizona athletic department captured the postgame huddle and some on-field interviews. I like how Lopez tells his guys, “Anxiety’s away now, boys.”
New postgame slogan for the team: “If you’re open, shoot.”
In other words: Stay aggressive. No fear.
* USA Today has a story on Arizona’s talented junior class.
* Hope you didn’t miss my story from Friday on how an 11-year-old helped Andy Lopez win the 1992 College World Series.
* Steve Rivera had a piece on third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean earlier this week.
By the numbers
* 3.98 — Konner Wade’s road ERA this season in six appearances, five starts, spanning 40 2/3 innings. He will start Sunday night vs. UCLA in a winners’ bracket game. The game begins at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
* 7 — Consecutive victories for Arizona, dating to the final game of the regular season (in that stretch, the Cats have had two walk-off wins and a 12-inning victory).
* 12 — Consecutive starts for Kurt Heyer in which he has pitched at least 7 2/3 innings.
* 30-1 — Arizona’s record when holding its opponents to four runs or fewer.
* 35 — Consecutive games in which OF Robert Refsnyder has reached base safely.
* 399 — Career wins at Arizona for coach Andy Lopez.