Greg Hansen: Determined UA knows it's not over

2012-06-25T00:00:00Z 2012-07-02T12:55:03Z Greg Hansen: Determined UA knows it's not overGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 25, 2012 12:00 am  • 

OMAHA, Neb. - Perhaps you noticed that nobody sprinted from Arizona's dugout, bumped chests with a teammate, pointed joyfully to the sky as if thanking the baseball gods or did a goofy dance that would indicate they were, you know, VERY HAPPY AND EXCITED to beat the two-time defending national champions.

No one located an ESPN cameraman and shouted, "One more, baby!"

Did you watch as winning pitcher Konner Wade, a preacher's son, went through yet another postseason masterpiece unsmiling, almost unemotional, as if this had been a February intrasquad game?

After Arizona beat South Carolina 5-1 Sunday night at the College World Series, moving within one game of the national championship, there was a distinct lack of shock and awe.

Are you kidding? Can this UA team be this unruffled with this much at stake? This is a school that hasn't won the championship since 1986 playing - beating - the Gamecocks, the gold standard of college baseball.

It took 58-year-old UA coach Andy Lopez, who knows how to win the Biggest Game, to put it in perspective.

"We understand where we're at," he said deadpan, as if asked if his favorite TV show were Leno or Letterman. "It's not a tournament somewhere in South Dakota."

The Wildcats have gone 17-2 in the last two months, taking out everyone in a very imposing series of postseason games, because, Lopez explained "it's an old group; they're a bunch of juniors."

That means they're old in college baseball terms, old and, it seems unafraid of the moment and unaffected by the competition.

The UA didn't celebrate; it remained poised. How else could it get this far?

Do you realize that the Gamecocks had won 14 of 16 games at the College World Series dating to 2010, the game's most clutch team, winning 2-1 in 11 innings (twice) and 3-2 in 13 innings in that stretch?

But if you expected the Wildcats to sit across the field and cower in their dugout, or at least wear grim expressions, that ain't happening.

After batting practice Sunday afternoon, Lopez repaired to a small room near his team's clubhouse, examining South Carolina's scouting report one final time, when he was jarred by some unexpected noise.

His team, led by All-America pitcher Kurt Heyer was playing a silly game called "Hangman," and Heyer was performing magic tricks along with backup catcher Jordan Berger.

"God only knows what they were doing; it sounded like a zoo," said Lopez. "So, no, I don't think there are any jitters."

Whether its old-age (hey, senior first baseman Bobby Brown will be 23 in October) or just composure created by a series of late-year, last at-bat victories over Arizona State, Florida State and St. John's, this Arizona baseball team has come too far to be overcome by someone's reputation.

The Wildcats may yet lose this best-of-three series - the biggest mistake they can make is to think the Gamecocks are discouraged - but it won't be because they don't think they belong.

Arizona won national titles in 1976, 1980 and 1986 and never was it the favorite. It finished those seasons, in order, with streaks of 12-1, 9-1 and 12-1, and this year's club, at 17-2, fits the same description.

The Wildcats have won their last two games in Omaha even though they left 26 runners on base. You can't do that unless you have uncommonly strong pitching, superb defense and one of the best hitting teams in school history.

Arizona entered the World Series with a .333 batting average, scoring 7.5 runs per game. The Gamecocks were hitting .271 with 5.4 runs per game.

So maybe this isn't that much of a surprise. Beyond the numbers, about all we know with certainty is that the Gamecocks won't make it easy.

"They've got to beat us twice to win the championship," said South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner.

"I don't think it's anything really insurmountable," said Gamecocks pitcher Evan Beal.

Before South Carolina coach Ray Tanner left the park Sunday night, he said, "If somebody would have said two months ago, 'Hey, you're going to be in the championship series, but you're going to be down by a game, will you sign for it?'

"Absolutely."

Much like Tanner, Lopez is happy just to be here.

Beating South Carolina one more time would rank with the four greatest victories in Arizona history, and it is a school that has won 2,637 baseball games.

And how often do you get a chance to play a game of that much significance? Happy just to be here, indeed.

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

Activate

Latest Video

More videos

Hansen: Arizona vs. Cal

Greg and Ryan preview Arizona-Cal and chat about Anu Solomon.


Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...