University of Arizona baseball has always been synonymous with powerhouse offense. This season, the Wildcats touted the fourth best offense in the nation, hitting .329 as a team. All but one of their regular starters hit below the .300 mark. And, they outscored opponents 756-577 throughout the year.
Yet, the story of Arizona’s epic postseason run is its pitching.
Monday night, Arizona capped a clean sweep through the postseason to win its fourth ever College World Series crown, and its first since 1986. The Wildcats also won National Championships in 1976 and 1980.
Sure, Arizona’s championship-series opponent South Carolina was not renowned for its offense. The Gamecocks hit just .265 as a team this season. But, regardless of who its opponent was, Arizona’s starting pitching was nails throughout the postseason, getting 85 innings out of its starters in 10 games, including five complete games.
Sophomore right-hander Konner Wade hurled three of those complete games, including the championship-series opener Sunday night in a 5-1 win over South Carolina.
Sophomore right-hander James Farris pitched into the eighth inning Monday in the clinching 4-1 victory. Farris also won the Regional playoff clincher with a complete-game shutout to eliminate Louisville on June 3, the last time he pitched previous to Monday’s championship finale.
The most pivotal postseason outing, however, came in the Super Regional round, when junior right-hander Kurt Heyer went 9 1/3 innings to take a no-decision in an eventual 7-6 win over St. John’s in 10 innings.
The reason this is such an astonishing achievement is because Arizona has never been known for its pitching. Much of this is in part to Arizona’s Tucson home being a desert paradise for hitters. All you have to do is look at Gil Heredia’s 1986 season to understand the modern dynamic of being a Wildcats pitcher. Heredia set the Arizona record for most home runs surrendered by an Arizona pitcher in a single season with 19, but still won 16 games that year – the second winningest season in Wildcats history.
While there have been some Wildcats pitchers to go on to good major league careers – Heredia, Scott Erickson, Joe Magrane, and Craig Lefferts, to name a few – only one Arizona alumnus has gone on to become a great big-league pitcher; former closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman. However, Hoffman didn’t pitch at Arizona. He was a shortstop who actually led the Wildcats in hitting with a .371 in 1988, outhitting his teammate J.T. Snow by 35 points that season. It wasn’t until Hoffman’s third year as a professional that he converted to the mound.
Otherwise, the only Arizona pitching great to transcend the mythos of legend while wearing a Wildcats uniform is softball icon Jennie Finch.
The legend of Arizona’s 2012 season belongs to head coach Andy Lopez, though. All the talk of timeless achievements in this year’s College World Series was South Carolina’s push for a three-peat. But all along, Lopez was in a position to make history. And, in capturing the National Championship, he becomes just the second coach in history to do so with two different teams, previously leading Pepperdine to the title in 1992.
And, it was the manner in which Lopez managed his pitching staff that drove Arizona to an undefeated 10-0 postseason run, culminating in the 2012 National Championship.