After being blanked by Oklahoma State in their first encounter in the College World Series, Arizona responded with two brilliant games that now put them into the the national championship series against Coastal Carolina in a match up of two non ranked teams to decide who the best team in college baseball is.
After a game where starting pitcher Nathan Bannister left due to precautionary reasons, the Wildcats got a full day’s work out of the starter on the mound with a gem by Bobby Dalbec. The fourth round pick of the Red Sox sent out seven strong innings of one run baseball with only four hits throughout the day. While he didn’t dominate with double digit strike outs as he did in his previous appearance in the College World Series, he did get the punch outs he needed with six timely K’s throughout the day. The runs came in early to support Arizona’s pitcher, and they came without Dalbec in the hitting lineup this time around.
In the first loss against the Cowboys, Dalbec pitched a strong game but was noticeably absent from the team’s lineup to hit and some believed it played a part in the way Arizona’s offense tried to do more than what it had come to expect of itself. Too many times hitters in the first game seemed to be caught leaning out over the plate just begging for some contact and hoping that the ball would stay in fair territory, only to see the shot off the bat go for a slow dribbler out to the infield on an easy out. This time however the Cats found their comfort zone early and focused on the base hit mentality of stacking hits on top of each other to get the batters around and throwing in a SAC bunt when necessary.
Zach Gibbons particularly had himself a game and could find himself moving into the cleanup spot in the national title series if his hitting streak continues in the first game. Gibbons had two hits and drove in three RBI’s to really put the pressure on early as they all came in by the fourth inning. The Cats were getting through the lineup quickly and were able to pick up on pitcher Thomas Hatch’s pitches. The Oklahoma State ace was not able to get beyond the second inning as he gave up four runs and walked two batters with five hits.
Trey Cobb did his best to slow the Wildcats down a bit, but even he had some difficulty as he gave up a run in the fourth inning that seemed to give the Cowboys a sense of incoming dread as it came just one inning after they put up their first run of the game. After Dalbec got that insurance run back he threw three more strong innings that really sealed it before Kevin Ginkel and Alfonso Rivas III came in to get the next three outs that ended Oklahoma State’s season and sent Arizona to the biggest moment of theirs.
The final series between the Chanticleers and Wildcats is a battle of teams really hitting their stride at the right time. Like Arizona, Coastal Carolina was beaten by TCU after upsetting number one seeded Florida and sent to a potential knockout game against number 5 Texas Tech. Coastal Carolina then beat TCU in two straight games and now find themselves two wins away from perhaps the biggest moment in their school’s athletic history in recent memory. Arizona as a program is no stranger to this stage however, as they just have to look back four years to the last time they graced the stage of the College World Series. They eventually went on to be the last on that stage, winning it all in 2012.
It will certainly be a tale of two underdogs with high drama assuredly throughout. The first to two wins will be crowned a national champion. The other will leave with heartbreak and what if’s. Jay Johnson has probably already tried to focus the young men in his locker room, and they will need all the guidance he and the coaching staff can provide to prepare them for their biggest challenge yet.