Arizona baseball: Wildcats prove doubters wrong en rout to College World Series appearance

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Stan Liu / Arizona Athletics and Stan Liu / Arizona Athletics | The Daily Wildcat Arizona baseball head coach Jay Johnson waves to a crowd upon his arrival back to Tucson after winning the NCAA Super Regionals in Mississippi. The first-year coach has led the Wildcats to a spot in the College World Series.

In just his first season at Arizona, head coach Jay Johnson has the Wildcats headed to Omaha, Nebraska for the program's 17th College World Series appearance. Despite being routinely looked over in the preseason, the Wildcats find themselves a few wins away from playing for a National Championship.

In just his first season at Arizona, head coach Jay Johnson has the Wildcats headed to Omaha, Nebraska for the program's 17th College World Series appearance. Despite being routinely looked over in the preseason, the Wildcats find themselves a few wins away from playing for a National Championship. 

Many publications had Arizona picked near the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference and D1baseball.com left them off of its preseason field of 64 altogether . But here the Wildcats are—winning the Lafayette Regional and sweeping the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Super Regionals in front of over 13,000 intense Bulldog fans..

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““To me the story is Nathan Bannister, Ryan Aguilar, Cody Ramer, Zach Gibbons, Justin Behnke, all these guys that people had given up on,” Johnson said at Hi-Corbett. 

Despite the outside perception of his team, Johnson believed in his talent and it has paid off in a big way.

“I had a person from pro baseball tell me that Cody Ramer was not a division one baseball player, that Ryan Aguilar should be cut and that Zach Gibbons was a fourth outfielder at best,” Johnson said.

Each of those players have earned spots on the All-Pac-12 team this season and have been indispensable for Arizona this year.

Despite trailing for most of game two in the Super Regional, Arizona never gave in and kept fighting until the final pitch. After the Bulldogs were up 5-1 in the eighth inning, things looked bleak for Arizona but it remained focused, and eventually came back to win with 6-5. 

It was all started by a three-run homer by Ryan Aguilar in the eighth inning to bring Arizona within a run. 

“Right when [Aguilar] hit his three-run home run, we knew that we were going to win that game,” said Cody Ramer, who plays infield for the Wildcats . “That just was a dagger in the heart to them." 

The Wildcats scored a run in the ninth to tie it and then eventually won the game in 11 innings to punch their ticket to Omaha. While reaching the College World Series was surprising to some, it's exactly what freshman catcher Cesar Salazar told Johnson would happen before the fall semester started.

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“He came in my office before school started and shut the door and he goes ‘coach I am going to get you to the College World Series’,” Johnson said.

To back up his promise, Salazar was the one to deliver a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 11th. 

“I tried to look for my pitch, I got my pitch and I made sure I wasn’t going to miss it," Salazar said.

Now, the Wildcats, who many thought wouldn't be playing at this time of year, will shift their focus to the Miami Hurricanes—their first opponent in a double-elimination round-robin style series this weekend. 

The Hurricanes boast the nation's best winning percentage, and are deemed the favorites to advance, so the Wildcats will have to defy expectations yet again if their season is going to continue.


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