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|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: With two outs and a man on second base in the first inning, Arizona right fielder Robert Refsnyder drove a 2-and-2 Forrest Koumas fastball the other way for a two-run homer into the right-field bullpen. With Konner Wade on the mound, Arizona never looked back.
The Hero: Refsnyder and Wade will have to share this one. Refsnyder went 2-for-3 with two intentional walks. His two-run homer in the first ignited the Wildcats, and his one-out single in the seventh led to an insurance run. And he stopped South Carolina’s best rally in its tracks, gunning down Adam Matthews trying to go first to third on a Kyle Martin single with no outs in the seventh. Wade turned in his second consecutive complete-game gem, allowing just one run on six hits, on the heels of a shutout of UCLA.
You Might Have Missed: After the Wildcats chased Forrest Koumas in the third, freshman righthander Evan Beal kept the Gamecocks in the game with five solid innings of relief, allowing just two runs (one earned). He scattered seven hits and walked four, but he made big pitches with runners on base, helping explain Arizona’s 11 men left on base. “I know he had three or four walks, but he competed for us,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said of Beal. “He kept us in that thing.”
OMAHA—Robert Refsnyder maintains that Alex Mejia is Arizona’s heart and soul, and the rest of the team takes cues from its shortstop. Anyone who has watched the Wildcats can see that the chatty Mejia is a general on the field—but he’s got a pretty special lieutenant in Refsnyder.
A junior right fielder, Refsnyder has a confident bearing that rubs off on his teammates. He has a calming presence on his teammates, but in Sunday’s CWS Finals opener, he spent more time firing them up. Refsnyder’s two-run homer into the right-field bullpen gave the Wildcats a first-inning lead they would never relinquish Sunday, as righthander Konner Wade threw his second straight complete-game gem to beat South Carolina, 5-1. The Wildcats are one win away from their fourth national championship, and their first in 26 years.
Refsnyder’s home run came on a 2-and-2 fastball over the outer half of the plate from Forrest Koumas. He drove the pitch the opposite way, and when it cleared the fence, he pumped his fist and yelled. It electrified the Arizona dugout.
“I knew if we got the team on the board right there, it would kind of settle the team down so we could just go out and play good baseball,” Refsnyder said. “I was fortunate enough to run into it. Sometimes you close your eyes and swing really hard and good things happen.”
It was just the 10th homer of the CWS. Going deep at TD Ameritrade Park isn’t easy, especially at night, and especially to the opposite field.
“How about an opposite-field home run in this park?” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “When he touched the ball, I thought that ball’s been hit hard, but I expected it to be maybe off the warning track or one-hop to the fence. But that was impressive. That’s why he’s one of the better players in the country—he’s able to do things like that.
“If you try to approach him any particular way, you’d say make him hit it the other way, and he did. He hit it a long way.”
Refsnyder finished the game 2-for-3 with a pair of intentional walks. He added a single in the seventh that led to an insurance run. But perhaps his biggest contribution came in right field.
The Gamecocks had mustered just one hit through five innings against Wade, but they finally started to pick up some momentum in the sixth, scoring a run to cut the Arizona lead to 4-1. Wade got a groundout to strand two runners in that frame, but the Gamecocks kept the pressure on in the seventh.
Adam Matthews led off the seventh with a single, and Kyle Martin followed with another single, into right field. Matthews attempted to go first to third, and Refsnyder cut him down with a beautiful one-hop throw to third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean, who deftly applied the tag. Instead of having runners at the corners with no outs, the Gamecocks had to settle for a man at first with one out, and Wade retired the next two hitters to end the inning.
“Adam was aggressive trying to make a play,” Tanner said. “I wasn’t sure he would throw the ball with the score at the time 4-1—I thought maybe he would throw it to second. He had to make a perfect throw to third, and he did.”
Refsnyder is an aggressive playmaker; he thought he had a chance to get the lead runner, and his instincts took over.
“I was surprised that Matthews decided to take the extra base—the ball was hit relatively hard in the hole,” Refsnyder said. “So I came through that ball real hard, and I really wasn’t expecting Matthews to go. But I thought he kind of hesitated, so I decided to let it rip . . . It was a big momentum shift for us.”
Refsnyder has distinguished himself on the field in Omaha, hitting .444/.524/.778 in 18 at-bats. He is the only player with multiple home runs at the CWS, and he is tied for the CWS lead with five runs and five RBIs. He doesn’t have the power to profile as an everyday corner outfielder, but the Yankees drafted him in the fifth round as a second baseman. He played a bit of second as a freshman, and Arizona coach Andy Lopez is convinced he has what it takes to be a very good defender there in time.
“He’s got a good aptitude, he’s aggressive but he’s not out of control,” Lopez said. “He’s good to teach, good to work with. He’s a special kid.”
Should Arizona win one more game to capture the national title, Refsnyder will be a leading candidate for Most Outstanding Player honors. But he might not be able to beat out Wade, who became the first pitcher to throw consecutive complete games at a CWS since Cal State Fullerton’s Jason Windsor in 2004. He allowed just six hits and a walk, which came in the sixth inning, snapping a streak of 30 2/3 innings without a walk. Wade improved to 4-0, 1.29 in the NCAA tournament.
After Wade shut out UCLA last Sunday, Lopez looked back at the righty’s inability to throw strikes heading into the season, and the hard work he put in to rediscover his command.
Nobody felt better for him Sunday than Refsnyder.
“When Konnor throws, I play especially hard, because I know what Konner’s been through,” Refsnyder said. “He’s arguably the strongest kid on our team. If you guys realize the adversity he’s gone through . . . “
For his part, Wade was very appreciative of the defensive contributions of Refsnyder, Mejia and the rest of the Wildcats.
“I can’t say enough about my defense tonight—they really picked me up in some big situations,” Wade said.
Now Lopez must decide who to start in a potential clincher Monday—ace Kurt Heyer on three days’ rest or No. 3 starter James Farris, who hasn’t pitched since regionals. (Tanner indicated he is very likely to start ace Michael Roth on three days’ rest). On his way into the postgame press conference, Lopez asked Refsnyder and Mejia who they thought should start Monday. For the record, both said Farris. The fact that Lopez asked the question shows how much respect he has for his veterans.
“It’s one of the reasons when we were walking up, I asked them to tell me, Farris or Heyer tomorrow?” Lopez said. “I’m going to make the decision, but I trust those guys.”
They have earned that trust.