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At home in Omaha: Wildcats made first trip to College World Series in 1954
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At home in Omaha: Wildcats made first trip to College World Series in 1954

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For 66 years, Arizona Wildcats baseball players — and their legion of fans — have circled June on their calendars.

The College World Series, played in Omaha, Nebraska, is one of the great traditions in sports. And for more than six decades, the UA has been college baseball royalty, making 17 CWS appearances and winning four national championships.

Every day until July 5, the Arizona Daily Star will relive the team’s trips to Omaha — starting with the first one:

1954: Hola, Omaha

What went down: The Wildcats made their first-ever trip to the College World Series, beating Oregon in the opener before losing back-to-back games to Michigan State and Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) on the way to elimination.

From the archives: The Star’s Abe Chanin wrote that Oklahoma A&M had an unlikely hero in its extra-innings win over the UA:

A pitcher’s single in the 14th inning of the longest battle in the history of the College World Series gave the Oklahoma Aggies a 5-4 victory over the University of Arizona and knocked the Wildcats out of the double-elimination tournament.

Carl Thomas, who had pitched that victory over Oregon last Thursday, had come in to hurl for the Wildcats tonight when starter Benny Rincon got rocky in the fourth inning.

The big fellow went all the way until the game-breaking 14th. In that inning, Thomas, his uniform drenched with perspiration, struck out the first batter. But showing fatigue, Thomas walked Henry Walker and Don Booher consecutively. Up came Tom Borland, Oklahoma’s relief pitcher who had checked Arizona beautifully with only four hits over the last 10 innings. Thomas worked the count to two strikes and no balls when Borland drove a hard smash into right field and the game was over.

It was a heart-breaking defeat for Arizona, as it would have been for the Aggies if they had lost.

He said it: Chanin wrote that “as the Wildcats left the field, the fans wildly applauded. They had made a respectable showing in all three games of their first appearance in the World Series.”

Missouri went on to win the 1954 College World Series, beating Rollins College in the final.

After Omaha: Thomas spent two more seasons at Arizona, finishing his college career with a 35-5 record and 2.52 ERA before playing one season (1960) with the Cleveland Indians. Thomas still holds the UA record for strikeouts and fewest hits allowed per nine innings.

The big number: 1,332. Arizona bused home to Tucson the day after its College World Series elimination, a trip covering 1,332 miles.

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