Arizona finally has proof it is a national power in college baseball once again.
The Wildcats claimed their first College World Series title since 1986 with a dramatic 4-1 victory over South Carolina on Monday night in Omaha. It ended the Gamecocks' bid to become the first team to win three consecutive CWS titles since the USC Trojans won five straight national championships from 1970 to 1974.
Arizona did it in dramatic fashion. With the game tied 1-1 after eight innings, the Wildcats scored three runs in the top of the ninth to close out the Gamecocks. Reserve first baseman Brandon Dixon provided the decisive two runs on a grounder down the third baseline. It helped Arizona finish the season with an 11-game winning streak that included a perfect 10-0 stretch in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats won 18 of their final 20 games overall.
The pair of victories over South Carolina deviated from the Wildcats' normal route of overpowering opponents offensively. Arizona used defense and pitching to prevail in the final. Konnor Wade limited South Carolina to just six hits in the opening game in the best 2-of-3 series. James Farris put on an even more impressive performance during his first action in 22 days. Farris, a sophomore, held the Gamecocks to one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out 12 of the first 14 batters he faced. That helped the Wildcats survive another strong performance from Michael Roth. The South Carolina ace yielded a run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Facing strong pitchers and a tough defense spelled doom for a South Carolina team that came into the final struggling on the offensive end. Over their final six CWS games, the Gamecocks batted just .181 as a team. They scored only 12 runs during that stretch. It kept South Carolina from counting on its own strong pitching and defense to wear down Arizona like it had done with previous opponents.
This is the second national title for Wildcats coach Andy Lopez. He came to Tucson 11 years ago to resurrect a program that had fallen on hard times after that '86 CWS title. Lopez built up a competitive program slowly, but truly turned the corner when he coached Arizona to a super regional in 2008. The Wildcats had the makings of another special season in 2012 after Lopez signed one of the strongest recruiting classes of his tenure in 2010.Nothing is more special than going from downtrodden to becoming a national champion. Arizona is back on top of the college baseball world and, with the talent in the Wildcat program, there is no end in sight for this renaissance.
John Coon has covered baseball at the high school, collegiate and professional levels as a sports reporter. He is also a third generation Yankees fan who lives to see New York win another World Series title each fall.