University of Arizona AD Greg Byrne hired Jay Johnson last summer to take over his baseball program.
And Johnson then hired Sergio Brown to draft a defensive plan and install it for their inaugural season in Tucson.
Those two moves have put the Wildcats within a win of bringing home the program’s fifth national title from the College World Series in Omaha, where the Cats have advanced to the finals and just beat Coastal Carolina, 3-0, in the first game of the best-of-three series.
(*2nd game update: The Wildcats used four pitchers, but couldn’t hold off Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers won 5-4 to force a third game and set up a do-or-die scenario for tomorrow’s game.)
While the offense has been very productive throughout the series, it’s the defense that has been most impressive. Brown has built a defensive strategy that is affectionately referred to as the “Brown package,” a detailed system that moves the defensive players around the field to put them in the best spots to deal with each individual batter.
And the pitchers complete the system by getting the opposing hitters to put the ball where the infielders and outfielders are playing. Each player even carries a “scorecard” for quick reference that has identified the tendencies for each batter.
The result is a stingy defense that has given up just six runs in the last 53 innings of CWS play.
Yesterday, they blanked the Chanticleers (53-18) behind four-hit pitching from JC Cloney, who went the full nine innings for the win, and a defense that was error-free again – the fifth time in six games. The junior lefty from California became the first pitcher in finals history to throw a shutout.
Cloney struck out six and scattered three walks to put the lid on a team that has been shut out only one other time in 71 games this season. He retired 11 of the first 15 batters on ground-outs, then struck out all three he faced in the sixth inning, and gave up just one hit through the first seven innings.
In 16 innings on the mound at the CWS, Cloney has not allowed a single run.
But he had some help from his friends yesterday. Right-fielder Zach Gibbons snagged two long drives at the back of the warning track, up against the wall, and Cody Ramer and Louis Boyd turned in a double play that killed a Chanticleer rally in the ninth.
At the plate, Ramer went 2-for-3 and scored two runs, while Ryan Aguilar also collected a pair of hits in four at-bats and added a couple of RBIs.
Yesterday’s win was the 49th of the season, which ties this team with the 1956 and 1986 squads for third-most victories in a season in school history.
That’s one more win than the 2012 team – and that was the bunch that brought home the school’s last (4th) title.
Today’s game is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Arizona time, with TV coverage by ESPN.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)