COLLEGE WORLD SERIES
BASEBALL

Arizona baseball: UA plan: Just play ball

Cats rely on defense, pitching, offense built around their speed
2012-06-15T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:25:53Z Arizona baseball: UA plan: Just play ballRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

OMAHA, Neb. - Alex Mejia stepped into the batter's box and surveyed the green in front of him.

This is what college baseball's pinnacle looked like: Beyond the left field wall at TD Ameritrade Park stood a vast bullpen emblazoned with the logos of the eight teams playing in this year's College World Series.

Center field was a sea of bleachers and summering schoolchildren, each hoping to catch a batting practice home run. The 50-foot scoreboard in right field flashed a spinning block "A" and the initials NCAA and CWS that suddenly meant everything.

Behind Mejia loomed a massive second deck of seats, complete with luxury boxes and VIP clubs.

The UA junior rocked back and forth in the box, stepped, swung and - thwack - pounded a ball into the dirt 2 feet in front of home plate. It skittered into the outfield, a single.

Perfect.

"This is the goal, the thing we've looked forward to," said Mejia, the UA's star shortstop. "We've played ourselves into playing here."

The UA will take on Florida State in today's College World Series opener confident that its slash-and-steal offense, steady defense and starting pitching is good enough to compete with the nation's best. The old-school approach won't win the team style points or lure newcomers to ESPN2, but it might be enough to take them even deeper into the postseason.

The Wildcats practiced at TD Ameritrade on Thursday at noon and were scheduled to return to the park for opening ceremonies at night. However, a severe-weather warning prompted organizers to cancel the celebration. Forecasts say there's a 50 percent chance of rain today.

The Wildcats (43-17) swept through the regionals and super regionals in five games, earning their first trip to Omaha since 2004 and just their second in 26 years.

FSU (48-15) did the same, outscoring its opponents by a combined score of 50-12. The team thumped Stanford in the supers by a two-day score of 35-8.

Arizona scored even more runs (61) in its five-game run to the CWS. In fact, the Wildcats are the highest-scoring team still playing in the postseason. Their 7.51 runs per game are the most among the eight teams playing in this two-week, double-elimination championship tournament; Florida State (6.93 runs per game) is second.

So, could tonight's game devolve into one of college baseball's notorious 15-13, four-hour affairs?

"There's a part of me that says, 'Oh God, please, no,'" coach Andy Lopez said. "We've been pretty consistent offensively, and they have as well, but that's taking a little bit of credit away from the two pitchers."

Arizona will start right-hander Kurt Heyer (12-2, 2.28 ERA) the club's third-year leader and ace. Heyer said he'll "try to go in there with a calm mind" despite the pressure of pitching in front of 24,500 people and on national television.

"I know I'll do well as long as my defense is behind me, backing me up," he said.

FSU will counter with freshman left-hander Brandon Leibrandt. The son of former big-leaguer Charlie Leibrandt is 8-2 with a 2.58 ERA this season. The Seminoles will back their starter with a lineup that skews both young and old.

Senior James Ramsey is the club's best player and leader, a center fielder with a developing power stroke.

"Don't let him get on base five times," Lopez said. "Maybe just once or twice."

Third baseman Sherman Johnson is another senior with a keen eye; he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in walks this season. The club has three juniors and a redshirt sophomore in its starting lineup; the remaining three hitters, and tonight's starting pitcher, are all true freshmen.

Arizona will lean on its "big five" group of juniors - Heyer, Mejia, third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean, center fielder Joey Rickard and right fielder Robert Refsnyder - and a handful of young but developing players. Second baseman Trent Gilbert won last weekend's super regional opener with a walk-off single; catcher Riley Moore is hitting .368 in the postseason.

In many ways, every UA player is a freshman this week. Omaha has the power to make every college baseball player wide-eyed and humbled. The key, those who have been here said, is to forget the stakes and just play.

Stick to the script.

"We've got a hitting plan we've worked on the last four, five months," Lopez said. "In terms of a hitting plan, we're right at home. Now, we've got to get some pitches to hit."

On StarNet: Chat with reporter Ryan Finley at noon about the Wildcats' chances in the College World Series and join a live fan chat during the game beginning at 5:30 p.m. Go to live.azstarnet.com for a link to both chats.

Today

• What: College World Series

• Who: Arizona vs. Florida State

• Where: Omaha, Neb.

• When: 6 p.m.

• TV: ESPN2

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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