OMAHA, Neb. — The banners and video screens in TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha read “History Happens Here.”
Now, they say “Arizona Wildcats: National Champions” after the UA denied South Carolina its third straight championship, defeating the Gamecocks 4-1 Monday night.
It’s how the Wildcats won, outscoring opponents 88-28 in the postseason and 27-8 in the World Series, that made Arizona’s fourth national championship so special.
Freshman catcher Riley Moore had one word to describe the Wildcats’ College World Series performance.
“Dominant,” Moore said. “Real dominant. We knew right when we got here that we were going to dominate. We knew we were a good team.”
The Wildcats dominated because they listened to head coach Andy Lopez, who preached his one-game-at-a-time mantra almost as much as “play good baseball,” leading the Wildcats to become only the second team to go undefeated in the postseason after South Carolina did last season.
Who would have thought that the mantras of Lopez would have actually worked, especially in an era where most college players seem to care more about their draft status than the plight of their own team?
By understanding the meaning of good baseball, with a little dose of top-notch pitching and timely hitting sprinkled in, Arizona won its fourth championship and first since 1986.
James Farris, who had not pitched since June 3, a 22-day layoff, stepped onto the mound for the Wildcats and went 7 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and striking out four.
“The pitching was special,” Lopez said. “Against a high level of competition, too. Those guys, they did a pretty good job.”
Patience at the plate and a key defensive substitution, coupled with the UA’s nine-hole hitter, resulted in two of the biggest hits in Arizona baseball history.
In the top of the ninth with the game tied at one, Brandon Dixon came up with the Wildcats’ biggest hit of the season, lining a 1-1 pitch down the left field line for an RBI double, scoring Robert Refsnyder and putting the UA on top for good.
Lopez revealed after the game that he almost pinch-hit for Dixon in the ninth inning after, in a similar situation in the seventh, he popped out to first base to end the inning.
“I knew a slider was coming,” Dixon said. “I just stood on it and pulled it down the line. When I saw it, I knew. It was just exciting from there. I’ve never won anything like this in the world.”
Arizona’s brand of baseball was more powerful than South Carolina’s position as two-time defending national champion. Entering the game, the Gamecocks were winners of their last seven elimination games and were gaining momentum after a seventh-inning run tied the game.
In the ninth, South Carolina loaded the bases on freshman reliever Mathew Troupe, who wavered but never crumbled under the pressure of the moment. Instead he bore down, and played the last bit of good baseball Arizona fans will see until next February.
“Our freshmen have produced all year long,” Dixon said. “Troupe closing the national championship game, that’s crazy.”
“We Are the Champions” blared from stadium speakers, confetti continued to fall and more and more fireworks were lit as the video board in TD Ameritrade Park showed highlights of this year’s CWS.
The new national champions watched themselves in their new championship T-shirts and hats playing good baseball, like they had all season long.