National Champs! UA baseball undefeated thru CWS play

It was only fitting that Robert Refsnyder made the final out of the final inning of the final game of the College World Series, beginning the Wildcats’ celebration of their new national baseball title.

The junior from Laguna Hills, Calif., had 10 hits in 21 at-bats during Arizona’s undefeated run through the post-season, scored the winning run last night against South Carolina, and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.  He topped all Sun Devils during the CWS with a .476 batting average.

But it must have seemed an eternity as he camped under that final fly ball in right field, waiting to pull it down and claim Arizona’s fourth national title and the first since 1986.  When he did, the team assembled for a wild scrum of sorts on the pitcher’s mound, creating a pile of jubilant humanity on baseball’s biggest college stage.

In the process, Arizona spoiled South Carolina’s chance to win its third straight national championship, sweeping the Gamecocks in two straight games, 5-1 and 4-1, just as they had done throughout the post-season, first in the regionals and then the Super Regional to earn their invitation to the World Series.

And then they rolled, almost unchallenged, through their CWS bracket for a chance to take down the defending champs in front of an appreciative crowd of 23,872 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

But there wasn’t anyone in the stadium more appreciative than the Arizona head coach, Andy Lopez, who had been saying all season long that he thought this team was special.  Last night’s win makes him one of only two college coaches to have guided teams from two different D-I schools to the national title (the other: Pepperdine, 1992).

And he did it with a pitching staff that was, shall we say, ‘thin’ in the bullpen.  Arizona’s starting pitchers went at least 7 1/3 innings in 10 games during the run to the title – mostly out of necessity.  Sophomore James Farris was the final starter in that string, lasting until the eighth inning last night before turning the ball over to freshman reliever, Mathew Troupe.

Troupe played a key role in the team’s post-season success, winning three times in relief, including twice during the CWS.  He had to work hard for the final win, managing to get himself out of a bases-loaded scenario, with one out, in the bottom of the ninth.

The Cats needed just seven hits, their lowest output during the CWS run, to wrap up the final win.  They’ve been an offensive power this season, smacking at least one extra-base hits in 64 of their 65 games and averaging three a game.  In each CWS game, the Cats were the first team to score.

Trent Gilbert, the freshman second baseman, had three RBIs in the finale.

It has been a slow, steady climb for Lopez, who took over an Arizona program that was on hard times 11 years ago.  The Cats couldn’t even get into regional play, having gone just once in the eight years previous to Lopez’ hire away from the University of Florida.

The program’s progress looked to be stalling out the past few years, as Arizona finished short of the national tournament in 2008 and 2009, and then got bounced from the regionals the last couple of years.

But this year, it was obvious the squad had the talent to get to the CWS.  Four of Arizona’s top five hitters this season have been drafted by Major League Baseball.

And they built a full head of steam at just the right time in the season, winning their last 11 games, and 18 of 20 after rolling into 2012.  The Cats finished 48-17.

So, Lopez can breathe a little easier now.  He has that national title that he’s been chasing for more than a decade, and Arizona has its fourth.  However, he has a new goal to begin working toward.

Arizona State has five national titles.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)