Arizona is the only one left blocking South Carolina's path in its quest to become the first team in 40 years to win three consecutive College World Series titles. That's fine with the Wildcats. They are determined to complete a revival of their own championship past before leaving Omaha.
The Wildcats are seeking to claim their first CWS crown since 1986 against the Gamecocks in a best-of-three final. Arizona started off on the right foot when it took the first game on Sunday, beating South Carolina 5-1 to move within a game of clinching the CWS crown.
Arizona resembles a team built for a championship. The Wildcats are finding ways to dominate each team they face. They have now racked up nine straight postseason victories and have outscored their previous eight NCAA Tournament opponents 79-26 before beating South Carolina.
What is the secret to Arizona's success? Equal doses of talent and chemistry. The Wildcats have been building for a special season ever since coach Andy Lopez signed one of his best ever recruiting classes in 2010.
Pitching is one major component of Arizona's success. The Wildcats have some imposing pitchers. Konnor Wade, a sophmore, shut down the Gamecocks by limiting them to six hits. Wade threw his first career shutout earlier in the CWS against UCLA. He has a 11-3 record in 21 appearances this season. Wildcats ace Kurt Heyer has the national lead in victories with a 13-2 record. Heyer has 13 consecutive starts where he has pitched at least seven innings. He is 9-1 in those games.
Offense is another big component for the team's success. Arizona ranks fourth nationally in batting with a team average of .330 and sixth in scoring with 7.4 runs per game. Seven starters are batting at least .324 or higher on the season. The Wildcats showed how strong they are at the plate right off the bat when Robert Refsnyder hit a two-run home run in the first inning. His homer was the first allowed by South Carolina in 77 innings.
The Wildcats came out firing both barrels in the first game and will need to keep it up to close things out. South Carolina is arguably the toughest team they have faced in the postseason. A wealth of strong pitchers has also made the Gamecocks difficult to handle for opponents.
Michael Roth, the team's senior ace, sports a 1.34 career ERA in the CWS. Roth has allowed just eight runs on 31 hits in a record 53 2/3 innings in Omaha. He has made seven starts and boasts a 4-0 record in nine CWS appearances.
Roth is not a one-man operation by any means. Tyler Webb, a junior left-hander, and closer Matt Price also have a wealth of CWS experience. Webb and Price have pitched in the CWS for three consecutive seasons like Roth. Price earned his fifth career win in Omaha by helping South Carolina finally eliminate Arkansas on Friday.
Given the respective strength each team brings to the mound, pitching will decide which team goes home a champion and which team comes up short. Arizona is closer to claiming a fourth CWS title than it has been at anytime over the past few seasons. The Wildcats have a tough task in containing South Carolina for one more game, but it is not an impossible one.
Everything is in place for Arizona to bring home a championship. And it will offer a perfect completion to the revival of the Wildcats' glorious past.
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.