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|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: UCLA starter Nick Vander Tuig had retired the first 10 Arizona hitters of the game, but Johnny Field poked a one-out single to right in the fourth, and that turned out to be the first of five straight Arizona hits. Seth Mejias-Brean’s two-run single and Bobby Brown’s two-run double in consecutive at-bats capped the rally and accounted for all of Arizona’s scoring in the game. “Five hits in a row was really the difference in the game—that was it,” UCLA coach John Savage said.
The Hero: Konner Wade turned in a masterpiece, holding a dangerous UCLA offense scoreless on just five hits and no walks in a complete game. Wade was in complete control from the outset, retiring the first 14 batters he faced. UCLA mounted just one serious rally, loading the bases with two outs in the fifth, and Wade retired Kevin Williams to end the threat. He cruised from there.
You Might Have Missed: Arizona played error-free, confident defense behind Wade, which was particularly important because he is a sinkerballer who got 14 groundball outs. Wildcats coach Andy Lopez suggested his infielders have an advantage on TD Ameritrade’s normal turf because they are accustomed to a much faster track in Tucson. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Tucson, but it gets a little warm in Tucson in May, and the field gets real hard. It feels like you’re on a blacktop sometimes,” Lopez said. “I’ve seen our guys go to other facilities, like this, and the game slows down for them, it really does.”
OMAHA—In an intrasquad game two weeks before Arizona’s season began back in February, Konner Wade could not throw a strike.
“I remember going home that night,” Wildcats coach Andy Lopez recalls, “turning to my wife and saying ‘Wow. I think we’re going to be pretty good, but I don’t know what to do with Konner Wade.’ “
Over the course of the spring, Lopez’s greatest concern has become one of Arizona’s greatest assets. Wade turned in the performance of his life on the grand stage of the College World Series on Sunday night—a five-hit, complete-game shutout against No. 2 national seed UCLA. The sophomore righthander struck out four and did not issue any walks in Arizona’s 4-0 win.
He also did not hit a batter, which is a good indication that he had his very best command Sunday. Wade had 24 hit batsmen in 17 outings heading into the CWS, and his lapses of control have had a tendency to lead to big innings throughout the season.
The nadir was a March 24 midweek game against New Mexico State, when Wade issued four walks in one inning of work, leading to four runs. Afterward, Lopez expressed frustration with Wade for trying to get too much movement on his naturally lively sinker, rather than just pounding the strike zone.
“He’s a great young man. But he’s been one of the most frustrating guys to work with this year I’ve ever coached,” Lopez said. “He’s a great young man, he’s talented, but it’s been hard to get him to repeat it. He showed it tonight—if you can repeat it, it’s going to dive all over, you’ll get groundball outs.
“When you think of where he was two weeks before the season started, and that night at New Mexico State—22 pitches, 20 balls, come on. For him to do what he did tonight, against a very good team . . . it’s just fun to see guys grow up.”
Wade’s innate feel for pitching made him a favorite of scouts in the Cape Cod League last summer, and Lopez said he might have been Arizona’s best performer during fall ball.
Which is why his struggles early in the spring were such a shock, and such a concern for his coach.
“I came back from winter break and just had a ton of movement,” Wade said. “I didn’t really have a bearing where to throw it off of. I was kind of going back to where I was in the fall and in the summer, trying to hit my spots, and that wasn’t working for me because it was falling off the plate. Throughout the season I’ve really gotten a bearing for how much it’s going to move.”
Lopez said the Wildcats went back to “pitching 101” with Wade. He did a lot of flat-ground work and a lot of dry work to try to find his release point. The Wildcats would make him close his eyes and try to get a feel for his delivery. And they started calling “a tremendous amount of fastballs,” Lopez said, in an effort to help Wade rediscover the feel for the pitch he had last summer and fall.
On Sunday, he had superb feel. He pounded the zone with a darting two-seamer that ranged from 88-93 mph for most of the game, dipping into the 85-87 range in the late innings. One scout on hand said he also showed a plus changeup, mostly against lefties, and he mixed in five cutters later in the game to change lefthanded hitters’ eye levels.
The changeup, which Wade considers his best pitch, got him out of his only jam of the game, in the fifth inning. He had breezed through four perfect innings to start the game, but then he was forced to sit through Arizona’s nine-batter fourth-inning rally, which produced all four of its runs.
Wade got two quick outs in the fifth, but Pat Valaika, Cody Regis and Kevin Kramer rapped out three straight two-out hits, loading the bases for Kevin Williams. Wade went to a changeup on the first pitch, and Williams jumped on it—lining out harmlessly to left.
“They had two stingers in that inning, and I thought they were getting good cuts on his fastball, so we tried to mix in more changeups,” Lopez said. “(Williams is) an first-pitch aggressive first-pitch hitter, so we got him out front.”
Six of Wade’s nine innings were perfect. UCLA got singles in the sixth and eighth, but Wade kept the runners from advancing past first in both cases. He ended the eighth with a double play, then worked a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve the shutout. He finished with just 109 pitches and recorded 14 groundball outs.
It was a dramatic difference from the last time Wade faced UCLA on April 14, when he gave up six runs on 10 hits in just three innings in Tucson.
“He was really pounding the zone in on us early, so he was getting ahead in counts,” Valaika said of Wade’s outing Sunday. “He was mixing the ball in, and he was keeping us off balance. It was a lot different than when we faced him previously, when he didn’t have his good command, so we had a lot of guys on. (Sunday), we just pounded the ball into the dirt the whole game.”
The result was the 100th shutout in College World Series history—a game that has a chance to be remembered for a long time in Tucson.
“He’s going to be a father, a husband, a grandfather someday,” Lopez said. “I told him, ‘You’re going to be able to share this experience with your children’s children’s children.’ “