Arizona Wildcats sophomore Konner Wade couldn’t throw strikes in preseason camp. His pitches had too much tailing action. He couldn’t control them. Andy Lopez didn’t know what he was going to do with him.
Hard to believe Wade was ever that guy.
Putting his name among the best ever on the game’s biggest stage, Wade pitched his second consecutive complete game at the College World Series on Sunday night, throwing a six-hitter as Arizona defeated South Carolina 5-1 in Omaha.
“You really are very thankful when a young guy gets better as the season goes on, which is what he’s done,” Lopez said in his postgame interview.
“I mean, there’s a couple days early in the season where you would have never said this would be occurring right now.”
It is … and the Wildcats are one win away from their fourth national championship.
Arizona and South Carolina will meet at 5 p.m. Tucson time on Monday in the second game of the best-of-three championship series. A third game, if necessary, will be held Tuesday.
You can close the book on Wade’s season.
It was up and down for more than fourth months — he had an 8.86 ERA in four starts in May — but ended on the highest of highs. He allowed one run in 18 CWS innings.
“I just felt like the difference in the game was Konner Wade,” said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner.
“Very, very impressive. He used both sides of the plate. He kept us from doing too much offensively. I felt like we were zoned in. We were ready to go. We didn’t make anything happen. But I think you give credit where credit’s due, and that’s with Konner Wade.”
As for those control issues, he has hit 22 batters, a UA record. He, infamously, walked four and hit two batters in an inning of work against New Mexico State on March 21.
But here is his postseason line: 4-0 in four starts, three complete games, a 1.29 ERA. He allowed only 27 hits — 24 of them singles — and walked a scant three batters in that span.
“His fastball was moving a lot,” said South Carolina center fielder Evan Marzilli. “He was good at working both sides of the plate. … He was on his game tonight.”
Wade (11-3) is the first pitcher since 2004 to pitch two complete games in the same College World Series. The last to do so was Cal State Fullerton’s Jason Windsor.
Wade had gone 30 2/3 innings without issuing a walk before he went to ball four in the sixth inning Sunday against dangerous Christian Walker.
“My past two starts, I had the same mentality — throw strikes and try to get ground balls,” said Wade, who struck out three Sunday. “I’m not going to have a lot of strikeouts, obviously. But I think that works to my advantage when we get deep in the games because my pitch count is lower.”
After this season, Arizona loses ace Kurt Heyer and five players from the starting lineup, but it is a comfort to know Wade will be back next season as the Friday starter before being eligible for the baseball draft.
Lopez, after a game at the NCAA Super Regionals a couple of weeks ago was asked about Wade’s potential ceiling as a pitcher. He laughed.
“It’s pretty good,” he said. “I don’t think I will be coaching him on Senior Day. If he wants a jersey, he’ll have to buy one and frame it on his own.”