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Sunday, December 21, 2014 | Last updated: 7:25am

Arizona baseball begins best-of-three championship series tonight


The Wildcats are the only thing standing between a South Carolina three-peat in Omaha



OMAHA, Neb. — Arizona baseball will face a daunting task when they step onto the field against South Carolina for first game of the College World Series finals at 5 p.m.

The Wildcats are the team that has the obligation of stopping South Carolina from being the second team in 39 seasons to “three-peat,” or win three consecutive national championships since USC won five straight from 1970-1974.

“We’re excited to be in the (South Carolina head coach) Ray Tanner Invitational,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said, with a chuckle. “I have nothing but respect for what he’s done at South Carolina. My God, it’s an amazing thing they’ve done.”

Before the Gamecocks fell to Arkansas on Monday, they had not lost a postseason game in 22 appearances, an NCAA record. South Carolina went undefeated in postseason play in both the 2010 and 2011 championship runs.

Despite their extensive experience in the final series, South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner sees their bid at a three-peat as as a potential disadvantage to his team this year.

“We’re probably the underdog,” Tanner said, referring to the Arkansas loss. “We’ve been through the loser’s bracket. We’ve played a couple extra games and these guys (Arizona) are scoring 10 or 12 runs a game. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

This postseason, while they have not been as fortunate, the Gamecocks are seemingly able to overcome any type of situation, coming from behind to win three World Series games this year in which they trailed.

“This is their third time here,” UA shortstop Alex Mejia said. “They’ve been here before and they’re used to it.”

South Carolina’s starting pitcher for tonight is unknown, but the Wildcats will send sophomore Konner Wade to the mound, who shut out UCLA in his most recent start on Sunday. Wade will pitch on a full week’s rest, his usual timeframe between starts.

Beyond tomorrow night, Arizona’s pitching is unknown even to the coaching staff. At their disposal is Kurt Heyer, who has already pitched and won twice this CWS and would be pitching on just four days rest.

James Farris, the Wildcats’ usual third starter is available, but has not pitched since the regional championship against Louisville, thanks to how quickly Arizona has been able to move through postseason opponents.

“It’s a blessing and a curse that we’ve won three games and been off for three weeks,” Lopez joked. “There’s good and bad in that. So we’ll go with Konner Wade and kind of see where we’re at.”

The Wildcats will enter the game as arguably the hottest team in the country, after dismantling Florida State twice and shutting out UCLA, along with their regional and super regional performances, where they pounded their opposition, outscoring them a combined 61-20.

“They probably swing the bats better than anybody, or have been for a while,” Tanner said. “It’s going to be one of those deals where I don’t know that we can slow them down.”

Game 2 of the series will be played on Monday at 5 p.m., and if needed, a winner take all Game 3 will be played on Tuesday at 5 p.m.


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