The Arizona Wildcats baseball team is evidently for real this season. Just ask the St. John’s head coach, Ed Blankmeyer.
“They’re probably the most talented team we’ve played this year when it comes to athleticism, defensive energy, and offensively they just keep the pressure on you,” said Blankmeyer after his Johnnies were swept by Arizona in two straight games in the weekend’s Tucson Super Regional.
St. John’s put up 18 hits in the opener, but were still beaten in extra innings when Trent Gilbert lined a single to right-center in the bottom of the 10th to give Arizona a dramatic 7-6 walk-off victory.
The Cats racked up 11 hits of their own and had to rally twice to come from behind for the win. When the Red Storm stormed to a 5-0 lead in the fourth, it looked like they might take the first game of the only Super Regional that school has played.
But Arizona rallied to win for the 22nd time this year in a game in which they trailed.
In Saturday’s second game, the Cats didn’t need a rally. They jumped to a three-run lead in the first inning, thanks to run-scoring singles by Seth Mejias-Brean, Bobby Brown, and Joseph Maggi. They extended it to 6-2 in the seventh and then rolled to the victory that propels the Arizona program into the College World Series for the 16th time.
The Cats put 12 hits on the scoreboard in the finale, giving them 23 for the two games. And that follows a 58-hit barrage in the regional tournament, as they beat Missouri once and Louisville twice by scoring 47 total runs.
Now the offensive juggernaut will carry Arizona to Omaha, where they will meet up with Florida State in their opening game of the World Series, to be played either Friday or Saturday. The date won’t be announced until tonight, when the Super Regionals have concluded play; Arizona was the first team to secure their CWS berth.
Arizona (43-17) has matched up with the Seminoles 11 times and holds the series edge, 6-5. But the last time they met was back in 1991 when the Cats won two of three games played in Tucson. The year before that, FSU beat Arizona at their home in Tallahassee by sweeping three games.
The Seminoles (48-15) beat Stanford in two straight to earn their bid to the World Series.
Just for historical reference, Arizona met Florida State on its way to a national championship in 1980, and again in 1986. Both games were played in the College World Series.
Maybe that tidbit of information will inspire the Wildcats this time around. A series win over the Seminoles could provide some added momentum once again as the Cats appear to be poised for a legitimate shot at the title. Their last opportunity was in 2004, the last time they made it to the CWS.
“I’ve been there on both ends,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez says about his past trips to Omaha. “I’ve been there as a seven seed and won a national championship, and I’ve been there as a No. 1 seed and didn’t win the national championship.
“I like our chances (this year) because we like to compete.”
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)