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In Omaha, these 10 snapshots stand out

2012-06-30T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:26:51Z In Omaha, these 10 snapshots stand outRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Before playing their first College World Series game, the Arizona Wildcats donned their red jerseys, white pants and navy caps and walked as a team to a bronze statue outside of TD Ameritrade Park.

As cameras flashed, the UA posed for pictures in front of "The Road to Omaha," which captures four ballplayers celebrating victory.

Few knew it at the time, but the photo-op was a premonition.

The UA rolled through the CWS over the next two weeks, winning all five of its games by a total score of 27-8. Monday's 4-1 victory over two-time defending national champion South Carolina brought the program its first NCAA title since 1986.

Arizona's two weeks on college baseball's biggest stage were almost too detailed and too dramatic to recall here - but we'll try.

Here are our 10 favorite moments and memories of the Wildcats' trip to Omaha:

10. Father and sons celebrate. Coach Andy Lopez's second national championship was special in part because he got to share it with his two sons. David, a sophomore, and Michael, a junior, made the trip to Omaha as UA walk-ons. They were just toddlers when Lopez's Pepperdine teams won it all in 1992.

"They used to be hanging off my knees," the coach said Monday. "Look at them now."

9. He's a Troupe-r. Reliever Mat Troupe pitched just two-hirds of an inning during the Wildcats' first two playoff series, prompting many to wonder if Lopez had lost confidence in his bullpen.

Apparently not. Troupe threw four scoreless innings over two College World Series appearances and finished tied for first on the team in wins (two) and first in ERA (0.00). Troupe escaped rallies in both of his wins, the Wildcats' 12-inning win over Florida State in their CWS opener and Monday's 4-1 championship game win over South Carolina.

8. Heyer cracks up. Minutes after leading the UA into the CWS Finals with a win over Florida State, pitcher Kurt Heyer unleashed an impression of athletic director Greg Byrne for a few visitors - including Byrne. The impression went viral, and Heyer - the Wildcats' wacky ace - ended up repeating the schtick at the team's welcome-home rally.

7. Cats visit kids. The Wildcats spent one of their off-days visiting children at an Omaha-area hospital, time that players called one of the highlights of their trip. The club visited - and subsequently befriended - youngsters with both minor and major medical issues.

They were unable to, however, sway a patient named Sean. The diehard Arizona State fan even carried a stuffed Sparky the Sun Devil with him to meet Lopez.

6. Mejias trek east. Think the Arizona Wildcats came a long way to win the national championship? Consider the trek of Carlo and Norma Mejia, the parents of UA shortstop Alex Mejia.

Spurred on by a monetary gift from their families, the Mejias drove overnight from their Sylmar, Calif., home and were in the stands for Arizona's CWS-opening win over Florida State. The Mejias went home shortly thereafter, only to return for the Finals. A handful of Carlo's old college teammates, including Angels bench coach Rob Picciolo, chipped in to fly them out.

ESPN's cameras loved Carlo and his travel story.

"I think," Alex said, "that they're more famous than me now."

5. PBP. Konner Wade's June 17 shutout of UCLA moved the Wildcats further through the winners bracket and gave the team's pitchers a well-deserved treat: batting practice. Arizona's hurlers took their hacks during the team's June 18 workout at Creighton University. James Farris cleared the fence in left field, and a handful of others one-hopped the wall.

"Pitchers' BP is definitely the highlight of our week," Wade said. "Every time we get pitchers' BP, it's a great day."

4. Gilbert steps up. Second baseman Trent Gilbert was 0-for-Omaha heading into the CWS Finals.

The freshman from Torrance, Calif., picked a good time to break out. Gilbert drove in three of the Wildcats' four runs in Monday's clincher, then caught a screaming line drive as South Carolina rallied with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. Despite hitting just .176 in five CWS games, Gilbert finished tied for the team lead with five RBIs.

3. Cats campaign for Farris, and he delivers. Lopez decided to start Farris in Monday's clincher, thanks partly to some campaigning from the pitcher's teammates. Mejia and outfielder Robert Refsnyder both suggested that Lopez start the right-hander, even though he hadn't pitched since the NCAA regionals. Lopez resisted before changing his mind, and the decision paid off.

Farris threw 7 2/3 innings of two-hit, one-run ball Monday, outdueling Gamecocks starter Michael Roth, and the Wildcats won the national championship.

2. Refsnyder goes deep, earns MVP honors. The right fielder gave the Wildcats a 2-0 lead in the first inning of their CWS Finals opener against South Carolina, blasting Forrest Koumas' outside fastball into the right-field bullpen.

"I was fortunate enough to run into it," Refsnyder said. "Sometimes, if you close your eyes and swing really hard, good things happen."

Refsnyder hit .476 with two home runs and five RBIs during the College World Series and was named series MVP. He finished with 16 total bases; no other Wildcat had more than eight.

1. Wade's world. Wade's evolution from inconsistent underclassmen to Omaha hero may have been the biggest story of the summer. The sophomore right-hander, who struggled to throw a strike six months ago, pitched two consecutive complete games in the College World Series. He blanked rival UCLA with a five-hit shutout, then pounded South Carolina with his lively fastball and sharp slider in the CWS Finals opener.

"We couldn't get anything done offensively," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "He kept making big pitches when he needed to."

Wade pitched a team-high 18 innings in Omaha, allowing just one run on 11 hits. He struck out seven and walked one.

Lopez said the righty's turnaround was unprecedented in his 30-plus years of coaching.

"If you stay around in this game long enough, you'll see it all," said Lopez, 58, named national Coach of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. "I've never seen something like this before."

• Also receiving votes: A kissing bandit jumps onto the field and makes a run toward third base coach Matt Siegel; Lopez compares his bullpen to "artichokes"; ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza takes batting practice with the team; Team USA (and UA) swimmers invade the Wildcats' team hotel; Omaha Memorial Little League team of 9- and 10-year-olds - also the Wildcats - shags flies for Arizona during practice.

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