OMAHA, Neb. (6/24/12) – Sophomore righthander Konner Wade went the distance yet again while junior rightfielder Robert Refsnyder showcased his skill-set all over the field, as the University of Arizona baseball team crept closer to the NCAA championship with Sunday night’s 5-1 win over two-time defending national champion South Carolina. Arizona (47-17) – riding a 10-game winning streak that includes a 92-34 scoring margin in nine NCAA Tournament games – now can win the title with another victory over the Gamecocks, either Monday night (7 CT) back at TD Ameritrade Park or on Tuesday if South Carolina (49-19) extends the best-of-3 series.
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Wade followed up his shutout of Pac-12 rival UCLA one week earlier by fashioning another strong complete-game effort, at one point seeing his College World Series shutout streak extend to 14.2 innings before South Carolina pushed across its lone run, in the top of the 6th. The surging sophomore faced only 33 batters over the full nine innings, allowing six hits and a walk to go along with three strikeouts in the 110-pitch outing.
Wade’s regular season was nothing to write home about (4.88 ERA, 7-3 record, 34 walks and .246 opponent batting) – but the Wildcats #2 starter has flipped the switch during the NCAA Tournament. After rattling off postseason victories over Louisville, St. John’s, UCLA and now South Carolina, Wade has compiled a 1.29 ERA during those four NCAA Tournament starts. He has eight more innings pitched (35) than hits allowed (27) during the NCAAs and has issued only three walks over the past month, for a nine-inning average of 0.77 walks per 9 innings during the NCAAs (compared to 3.02 BB/9 IP during the regular season). Opponents are batting only .209 vs. Wade in the NCAAs, nearly 40 points below his regular-season opp. batting avg.
In his two CWS starts, Wade owns a 0.50 ERA and equally-low 6.00 “WHIP” (1 BB + 11 H / 18 IP), with seven strikeouts, a .175 opp. batting avg. and 201 total pitches spanning the 18 innings. He is the first pitcher since 2005 to throw complete games in consecutive CWS starts (dating back to Fullerton’s Jason Windsor in ’05). Wade’s 6th-inning walk on Sunday ended his streak of 30.2 innings without allowing a base-on-balls. Through three innings on Sunday, Wade had located 76% of his pitches (28-of-37) for strikes and finished at 66% strikes (73-of-110).
If Arizona does go on to win the NCAA title, the tournament MVP likely could be Wade … but Refsnyder’s all-around, high-level contributions also may merit him MVP consideration (should the Wildcats win on Mon. or Tues.). The Arizona cleanup batter is not a “five-tool” player in terms of pro potential, but he certainly brought his tool chest to the ballpark on Sundau while helping his team claim the series-opening win.
Refsnyder already was one of the top hitters for average during this CWS and he took it up another notch on Tuesday, batting 2-for-3 with a pair of walks for a .444 CWS batting avg. (8-for-18) that trails only Florida State’s Devon Travis (.563; 9-16) and teammate Riley Moore (.500; 7-14) among the event’s hitting leaders. Hitting for power? Refsnyder became the first player with multiple home runs at the 2012 CWS in the earlygoing Sunday night, after working ahead vs. righthander Forest Koumas, fouling off the next two pitches and parking the next 2-2 offering into the South Carolina bullpen beyond the rightfield wall for a 2-0 lead (Johnny Field earlier had reached on a 1-out, 1st-pitch single through the left side).
Did we mention that Refsnyder is a righthanded hitter? The momentum-grabbing, opposite-field blast drew high praise in the postgame press conference.
South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner, before answering a different question about Refsnyder, instead diverted his answer to the earlier home run. “How about an opposite-field home run in this park?” Tanner said, in part-question/part-statement. “When he touched that ball off, I said ‘that ball’s been hit hard.’ But I expected it to be maybe off the warning track, one-hop to the fence. But that was impressive.”
“That’s why he’s one of the better players in the country. He’s able to do things like that.”
While reaching base four times, Refsnyder sprinkled in some defensive gems during the late innings. His pair of catches in the top of the 6th included an above-average running catch down the line, helping limit South Carolina’s lone scoring inning to the single run. The Gamecocks were poised for more in the 7th, as it looked like the defending champs were about to have runners on the corners and the potential tying run at the plate (Arizona did not stretch to 5-1 until the bottom of the 7th). With Adam Matthews on first, Kyle Martin had pulled a single into right field. Matthews rounded second and was bidding for third, but Refsnyder had other ideas – firing across the field for the 9-5 putout (tag by 3B Seth Mejias-Brean) and yet another huge momentum play.
Moments later, Refsnyder had singled and was on second with two outs before making his own aggressive move on the basepaths after Bobby Brown‘s single through the right side, showing his speed and baserunning skills to score the game’s final run.
Refsnyder’s stat line for the 2012 CWS now includes reaching base on more than half of his plate appearances (11-of-21, or 52.4%; 8-for-18, with 3 BB) to go along with the pair of home runs, 5 RBI, 5 runs scored and a pair of stolen bases over the course of the four wins in Omaha. He has reached base in 38 consecutive games and now has 18 multiple-RBI games this season.
Bullets followed by notes that you may find interesting …
• Moore, the Arizona freshman catcher, hit 3-for-4 from the 8-spot on Sunday, boosting his CWS average to .500 (7-for-14) … CF/leadoff batter Joey Rickard (2-for-4 Sunday) is hitting .421 in the NCAAs (16-38) … LF/2-hole Johnny Field scored twice on Sunday and now has 13 runs to go with 13 RBI in the 2012 NCAAs.
• Arizona’s 16 complete games include seven from Kurt Heyer and six by Wade … South Carolina’s lone CG came earlier in the CWS, by Michael Roth vs. Kent State.
• Arizona is bidding to become the first team since Fulllerton’s 1995 squad to receive 7-plus innings from its starter in every game of the CWS (Heyer threw 7.2 and 7.1 in his pair of wins over FSU) … The Arizona starters have logged 7.1 innings or more in every game of the 2012 NCAAs (avg. of nearly 8.2 per start).
• Arizona snapped South Carolina’s streak of holding its opponent to 0-4 runs in 19 consecutive CWS games.
• Refsnyder’s 2-run shot ended South Carolina’s streak of not allowing a home run for 77 straight innings.
• South Carolina 1B/3-hole Christian Walker collected his 27th career CWS hit during Sunday’s game (one shy of tying the record, set by former UNC player Dustin Ackley).
• Most of South Carolina’s run production at the 2012 CWS has come in the mid/late innings – only 6 runs from 1st-4th but 12 from 5th-9th.
• Both teams started a player named Joey in the leadoff spot (SC-Pankake, AZ-Rickard) while both were hitting their catcher 8th & second basemen in the 9-hole.
• Koumas was returning from injury and had not made an appearance in nearly a month (5/25 relief vs. Florida).
• Teams that have scored first are 11-3 in the 2012 CWS (all three comebacks have been by South Carolina).
• The nine previous CWS best-of-3 championship series have seen the game-1 winner become NCAA champion 7-of-9 times (Oregon State won in ’06 and Fresno State in ’08, despite each losing the title series opener).
• Winning teams at the 2012 CWS have seen their starting pitchers log nearly 7 innings per start (losing teams – avg. of nearly 3.1 innings per start). … Six losing teams at the 2012 CWS have received 2.1 innings or shorter from their starter (Koumas went 2.1 on Sunday).