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UA got hot when it counted

'Bear Down' was more than just school motto for Lopez's champions
2012-07-01T00:00:00Z UA got hot when it countedRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 01, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats met quietly in their home clubhouse on May 6, their once-promising season hanging in the balance.

Across the Hi Corbett Field diamond, Oregon reliever David Wylie - thrilled following the Ducks' series win over the Wildcats and the promise of a conference title - blasted his bagpipes, a team tradition that bordered on the offensive.

The Wildcats heard him. Within days, they were making some serious noise of their own.

Monday's 4-1 College World Series championship win over South Carolina was Arizona's 11th consecutive win, 10 of them coming in the postseason.

The Wildcats were victorious in 18 of their last 20 games during their charmed 2012 season, a streak that started immediately after the Oregon series. The club clinched a share of its first conference championship in 20 years with a walk-off win over Arizona State on the final day of the regular season and cruised through regional and super regional series held at Hi Corbett.

The club then blew through Omaha like a summer storm, finishing with a 48-17 overall record and the fourth national title in program history.

Cue the music.

"It's not always the best team that wins; it's the hottest team," coach Andy Lopez said. "And these guys got hot at the right time."

On the mound

Asked during the Wildcats' run to explain his pitching philosophy this season, Lopez mentioned - of all things - vegetables.

"I don't like artichokes, so I don't eat them very much. My wife loves them, but I don't," he said. "I have nothing against artichokes, and I have nothing against our bullpen, but I really like our starters, so we go with them for a long, long time."

Junior Kurt Heyer and sophomores Konner Wade and James Farris combined to start 55 games in 2012, going a combined 31-8. The trio threw 396 of the club's 586 innings.

Lopez leaned even harder or the Wildcats' starters in the postseason. Wade (11-3, 3.96 ERA) threw back-to-back complete games in the College World Series, the first pitcher since 2004 to do so. He posted a minuscule 0.50 in two CWS starts, striking out seven and walking one. Heyer (13-2, 2.24 ERA) pitched 9 1/3 innings in Arizona's opener, a 12-inning win over Florida State. And Farris (7-3, 3.97), summoned to start Monday's clincher after three weeks off, delivered 7 2/3 innings of two-hit, one-run ball.

Arizona became the first team since 1957 to have its starters pitch at least 7 1/3 innings in all CWS games. Only four other teams in series history had done the same.

The Wildcats' relievers, compared to veggies by their coach at the start of the CWS, did anything but choke. Troupe earned the victory in two of the Wildcats' five CWS games, including Monday's clincher.

Wade, Farris and Troupe highlight a young core of pitchers who figure to see their roles increase in 2013. The UA will return all but a handful of pitchers - Heyer, Michael Lopez and Nick Cunningham - as it tries to repeat in 2013.

At the plate

The hand signal started, innocently enough, as a cheeky reminder from Arizona's batters to the opposing defense that they should be playing farther back at Hi Corbett Field. By the time the Wildcats' national title run was complete, the "no doubles" dance was a full-blown phenomenon.

Arizona's hitters used every inch of Hi Corbett's vast outfield during the regular season, peppering the baselines and deep gaps with extra-base hits. The club finished with 132 doubles and 35 triples, and hit just 23 home runs. Robert Refsnyder led the team with eight long balls, two of them coming in the more hitter-friendly - but still cavernous - confines of Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park.

Arizona was the Pac-12's top hitting team all season. Eight of the Wildcats' nine regulars finished with batting averages above .300, and five had marks above .350.

Johnny Field won the Pac-12's regular-season batting title and finished his sophomore season with a .370 mark. Alex Mejia led the team with 97 hits and was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and defensive player of the year.

Bobby Brown came from nowhere to become the team's most unlikely star. The fifth-year senior hit .348 in 50 starts at designated hitter and finished with 25 extra-base hits - seven of them triples.

Refsnyder provided pop from the cleanup spot throughout the season: His two-run, first-inning home run in the Wildcats' CWS Finals opener gave the team a lead that it never relinquished.

Refsnyder called the hit "a great last college experience."

"I'll cherish it," he said, "for the rest of my life."

Refsnyder, Mejia, Seth Mejias-Brean and Joey Rickard were taken in last month's amateur draft as juniors, and are all expected to sign contracts in the coming months. Lopez will replace the quartet with in-house options and a few new recruits: Expect Trent Gilbert, Brandon Dixon and Tyler Parmenter to see expanded roles next season, with Joe Maggi - the team's regular first baseman for the second half of the 2012 season - moving to the outfield.

The Wildcats' title should pay off in recruiting, too, setting the program up for continued success.

After all, there's a title to defend.

"To see the program in the hands of young guys like this, it's very promising for Arizona," Refsnyder said. "And for young guys in high school to see Arizona on the main stage and to win a national championship, that can only help recruiting."

On StarNet: Follow all of Arizona's sports teams at azstarnet.com/wildcats

A look back at Arizona's 2012 NCAA championship run

Arizona's national championship season, by the numbers

• Record: 48-17

• Conference record: 20-10 (t-1st, first championship since 1992)

• First win: Feb. 17 (3-1 over North Dakota State)

• First loss: Feb. 18 (8-2 to North Dakota State)

• Last win: Monday (4-1 College World Series win over South Carolina)

• Last loss: May 26 (9-7 to Arizona State)

• Longest win streak: 11 games (May 27-June 25)

• Longest losing streak: 3 games (twice, most recently April 14-17)

2012 statistical leaders

Batting

• Batting average: Johnny Field, .370

• Hits: Alex Mejia, 97

• Doubles: Seth Mejias-Brean, 22

• Triples: Bobby Brown and Field, 7

• Home runs: Robert Refsnyder, 8

• RBIs: Robert Refsnyder, 66

• Stolen bases: Joey Rickard, 18

Pitching

• Wins: Kurt Heyer, 13

• ERA: Heyer, 2.24

• Innings: Heyer, 153

• Strikeouts: Heyer, 113

• Complete games: Heyer, 7

• Saves: Mat Troupe, 6

Say goodbye to …

DH Bobby Brown (signed by Royals)

SS Alex Mejia (drafted by Cardinals, expected to sign)

P Kurt Heyer (drafted by Cardinals, expected to sign)

OF Joey Rickard (drafted by Rays, expected to sign)

3B Seth Mejias-Brean (drafted by Reds, signed Friday)

OF Robert Refsnyder (drafted by Yankees, expected to sign)

Keep an eye on …

• RHP Konner Wade: No. 2 starter likely will be the Wildcats' ace in 2013; finished the 2012 season with back-to-back complete-game victories at the College World Series.

• RHP Mat Troupe: Strong 2012 finish has Troupe poised to either join the starting rotation or move to closer as a sophomore.

• 3B/SS Tyler Parmenter: Rangy infielder had five at-bats as a true freshman but is expected to play full-time in 2013.

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