New Champion In College Baseball

Refsnyder celebrates scoring the go-ahead run in the 9th inning Monday night. (Harry How/Getty Images)

There is a new king of college baseball. No, unfortunately it’s not my ‘Noles, but instead it’s the team who knocked them out, the Arizona Wildcats who took home the championship last night by sweeping two-time defending champion South Carolina. With last night’s 4-1 win over the Gamecocks, the Wildcats and offensive star Robert Refsnyder (the College World Series Most Outstanding Player) won their first title in Omaha since 1986, and gave coach Andy Lopez his first national championship with the school.

The Wildcats played as the best team in Omaha throughout the College World Series and are very deserving champions. In fact, the Wildcats won their final 11 games this season and 18 of their last 20. It’s not always the best team that wins at the College World Series, but usually the team that is playing their best ball at the exact perfect moment, and that old adage definitely proved true again this year. Coach Lopez backed that up saying after the game, “It’s not the best team that wins, it’s the hottest team, and these guys got hot at the right time.”

If you needed another example of what it means to be “hot” then just take one look at the starting pitching matchup from last night. Arizona, who won the first game of the championship series 5-1 on Sunday night, decided to rest their ace Kurt Heyer one extra day, saving him for a possible deciding game three of the championship series that would have been played today. Instead of Heyer, Arizona opted to start James Farris, a pitcher who hasn’t been on the mound in more than three weeks. What makes that decision even more impressive is that South Carolina started arguably the best pitcher in College World Series history, Michael Roth, who even Coach Lopez described as a “legend”. Roth pitched great, allowing one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings, but the Wildcats starter pitched even better allowing just one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings.

The Wildcats are a team that has a plan for everything. Coach Lopez makes his player verbalize their approach at the plate to him before every at-bat, and that kind of discipline can go a long way, especially when dealing with 18-22 year old young men. Lopez also told his players “don’t think about your plan on the bus. If you’re working on it then, you’re too late.” If you are a young coach I would encourage you to do the same thing with your athletes,  having a plan and making the athletes accountable for executing that plan can certainly eliminate some of the nerves that come with stepping into the batter’s box in a tense situation and it also encourages keeping a clear mind.

Robert Refsnyder, an outfielder for the Wildcats but a player the New York Yankees drafted in the fifth round as a second baseman, also had his own plans. These plans started seven weeks ago, when his Wildcats lost a series at home to the Oregon Ducks. Refsnyder took offense when one of his friends, Ducks’ pitcher David Wylie played bagpipes in celebration of that series win, and Refsnyder was hoping that they would face Oregon once again in the College World Series so his ‘Cats could get payback. Oregon lost in their super-regional to Kent State, but Refsnyder and his team still used that series as motivation and they haven’t lost another series since. Last night that made them champions.

College baseball is done for another season, but this year was a fun ride not only for my Noles but also with the other games that I was able to watch over the postseason. I can only imagine it being even more fun for fans of the Arizona Wildcats and I pray that one day FSU will finally get the monkey off their back and win their first title in Omaha. If not, we can always fall back on the fact that FSU won two more games in Omaha in 2012 than the Florida Gators who went 0-2 and BBQ. Nonetheless, Arizona is the king of college baseball in 2012.

Congratulations, Wildcats.

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