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|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: After Joey Rickard led off the bottom of the first with a single, Florida State starter Brandon Leibrandt induced a gentle chopper back to the mound—it looked like a perfect 1-6-3 double play ball. Instead, Leibrandt’s throw sailed into center field, giving Arizona runners at the corners with no outs instead of having the bases empty with two outs. The Wildcats took full advantage of the opportunity, scoring six runs in the frame to take a stranglehold on the game.
The Hero: Arizona’s offensive onslaught was a true team effort—eight different Wildcats recorded hits, and seven players posted RBIs. The offense was the story, but Arizona ace Kurt Heyer pitched well enough to win a pitcher’s duel, so we’ll dub him the hero. Heyer allowed just two runs over 7 1/3 innings to take over sole possession of the national lead with his 13th win of the season.
You Might Have Missed: The top two hitters in Florida State’s lineup continued to produce. Senior leadoff man Sherman Johnson capped his big CWS and his collegiate career with a good game, going 2-for-3 and drawing his 69th walk of the season, tying him for the national lead. He doubled down the right-field line in his final at-bat in the ninth, then was lifted for a pinch-runner. He trotted off the field to a standing ovation from the FSU faithful. No. 2 hitter Devon Travis went 2-for-4, becoming the first player to record multiple hits in his first four games at a CWS since Stanford’s John Gall in 1999.
OMAHA—In an era dominated by pitching and defense, the most offensive team in the College World Series became the first to punch its ticket to the Finals.
Arizona has pitched and defended very well in Omaha, of course, but its bats did the heavy lifting in Thursday’s 10-3 win against Florida State.
“About the easiest way to sum it up is to say, we got taken to the woodshed today,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “It was just a tremendous job by U of A—the way they played the game, they were very difficult outs all day long. They battled extremely well, offensively, and certainly made a couple of great plays on the defensive side . . . It’s just one of those situations where you tip your hat to the other club. It’s nothing that anybody can say but we got whipped.”
The Wildcats sucked all the suspense out of the game with six runs in the first inning, chasing FSU freshman ace Charlie Leibrandt after seven batters (and just one out).
The game might have taken an entirely different course if Leibrandt had successfully executed a 1-6-3 double play on Johnny Field’s comebacker, just two batters into his outing. But Leibrandt’s throw sailed into center field, and the Wildcats pounced. Trent Gilbert eventually capped the rally with a two-run single to left-center field—which was set up by two errors on one play by FSU left fielder Jose Brizuela.
In Tuesday’s win against UCLA, Florida State’s veterans schooled UCLA’s younger players, as Bruins coach John Savage put it. But Florida State’s freshmen were the ones who played like insecure freshmen in that first inning against Arizona.
“They obviously helped us a little bit a little bit in that first inning defensively, which was very uncharacteristic of a Florida State team,” Arizona coach Andy Lopez said. “And, again, it’s just a remembrance that it’s a game played by young people, and we got some breaks today.”
As well as the Wildcats are playing, one break is too many to give them. Arizona’s explosive offense is so difficult to keep in check—it was an accomplishment for Florida State and UCLA to hold the Wildcats to four runs in each of their first two CWS games. That was enough offense to win those two games because the Wildcats gave up just three runs total in those games.
A six-run lead was more than enough for Arizona ace Kurt Heyer on Thursday, but the Wildcats gave him even more of a cushion. Home runs by Robert Refsnyder and Bobby Brown highlighted Arizona’s four-run fourth—and the rout was on.
With a big lead, Heyer attacked the strike zone, so the Seminoles rapped out nine hits against him, but they managed just two runs. He left after 7 1/3 innings and 123 pitches.
“Any time you get a really big lead with Kurt, it’s a really good feeling,” said Refsnyder, who led Arizona’s 15-hit barrage with three hits. “It has been ever since I’ve been a freshman. Every time you get a couple of runs, especially six runs—especially on a bunch of uncharacteristic errors by Florida State—it helps our confidence.”
Not that confidence has been an issue for the Wildcats. Lopez recalled giving his team a speech after it lost a rubber game against Oregon on May 6, telling his players that they’d better not lose another Pac-12 series if they wanted to accomplish their postseason goals, which began with hosting a regional.
The Wildcats did not lose another series, taking road sets at California and Southern California, then winning two of three against rival Arizona State to end the regular season.
“To be very candid with you, they’ve played exceptionally good baseball from that point on,” Lopez said, referring to the Oregon series.
They certainly played exceptionally good baseball in two wins against the Seminoles in Omaha.
“They did not give us any room to breathe,” Martin said. “It’s a credit to Andy and his staff. They’re very aggressive, but yet they’re very picky at the plate. Defensively, they’re very impressive. Heyer and the young man (Konner Wade) that will pitch the first game of the national championship series, two outstanding righthanded pitchers.
“I’ll tell you one thing: that Heyer is a bulldog. He was at 122, and he’d have stayed out there and finished it if he had been needed.”
Now, Arizona will play for the national championship for the first time since 1986—when it beat Florida State 10-2 to earn coach Jerry Kindall his third and final national title. Lopez knows what it feels like to win a championship, too—he guided Pepperdine to the title in 1992. But for the players, this is uncharted waters.
“Having the experience of losing and feeling what it feels like to go back on a charter plane and nobody talks, it’s a depressing feeling,” Refsnyder said. “I think we’re on a mission this year, myself and Kurt and the other juniors, to really get to the College World Series, because that’s always been my goal. And now we’re in position to play for a national title. And it’s exciting, because that’s what we came here to do.”