Arizona bullpen shuts down Florida State, propels Wildcats past Seminoles
Little used relief pitchers come up huge when it matters most
OMAHA, Neb. — Take a look at Arizona’s statistics. Seven out of nine batters hold batting averages over .325. Sure, they have ace Kurt Heyer who led the nation with 12 regular season wins, and Alex Mejia at shortstop, capable of turning a ground ball into something magical at the drop of a hat.
In Friday’s dramatic, 12-inning win over Florida State however, it was neither of the guys listed above that had the largest impact.
Johnny Field, who entered Friday night’s game with a six-game RBI streak, which included a game in the regionals where he posted six RBI in one game, was one-for-five behind the plate for Arizona. Bobby Brown and Seth Mejias-Brean, two of Arizona’s most important hitters, were a combined 0-for-11 for the game.
Instead, it was the strength of the Wildcats little used bullpen that made the difference for Arizona.
“It’s been a Catch-22, because the starters have done such a marvelous job, especially in the postseason,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said. “I really felt like these guys would be ready to go.”
Prior to Friday’s game, the Wildcats’ bullpen had thrown less than two full innings in five postseason games, all Arizona wins.
“I joke with our guys: the safest place I’ve ever known is a bullpen,” Lopez said. “Sometimes bullpens have to get a little tougher.”
In Friday’s game, Heyer was not roughed up, per se, but his 128 pitches in 7 2/3 innings was not what Wildcat fans are used to seeing from their ace, who has thrown two complete games in both appearances for Arizona this postseason.
Instead of Heyer, it was a pair of freshmen, Tyler Crawford and Mathew Troupe who put the cap on the Wildcats’ victory. In 3.4 innings pitched, Troupe and Crawford battled a powerful Seminole lineup, giving up just one hit apiece and no runs. They struck out four and did not walk a single Florida State batter.
“They did a marvelous job tonight,” Lopez said. “We do not win tonight, no way, we do not win without Crawford and Troupe doing what they did.”
It was Crawford and Troupe, facing All-American James Ramsey, who struck him out. It was Crawford and Troupe, when it counted, that were able to keep the momentum going into Sunday’s matchup with Pac-12 rival UCLA.
“When I first came in, I was pitching young, and he beat that in my head,” Troupe said. “I needed to pitch old.”
Pitching old is what got Troupe the victory in the biggest stage in college baseball. Pitching old is what you call keeping the Wildcats in the game when it really seemed as though momentum were slipping away from Arizona late in the game.
“Momentum is a huge thing, and being able to get that first win will carry us forward, and I think we’ll ride the momentum Sunday and for the rest of the World Series,” Troupe said.