The College World Series is where dreams are made or crushed, and the No. 5 Arizona baseball team will have their shot at becoming champions or another school who came and went.
The Wildcats dominated both of their regional championship brackets, finishing with a record of 5-1. Even after Arizona was forced into an elimination game against Ole Miss in the Tucson Super Regional, they did not let it bother them and cruised to victory to punch their ticket to Omaha. Head coach Jay Johnson raved about his team and their journey to the college world series.
“It is awesome to be here,” Johnson said. “There is nowhere else you want to be in the month of June than at TD Ameritrade [Park] in Omaha, Nebraska. I am very happy and proud to be here with our team. We were very consistent throughout the year, had a great non-conference schedule and obviously Pac-12 champions. It is a bunch of players who have done the right things on and off the field over a long period of time and certainly deserve this opportunity.”
The College World Series will be very different from both regionals in Tucson. The Wildcats will not have their home field or stands full of friendly fans for the first time this postseason. Arizona will also open world series play against the defending champions, the Vanderbilt Commodores. Vanderbilt looked like their usual championship selves going 5-0 in their regional tournaments, outscoring their opponents 34-15 which included two shutouts. Johnson understands the magnitude of who his team’s first opponent is.
“They are the kings of college baseball,” Johnson said. “In terms of on the field results and how their program has operated over a long period of time. We have a ton of respect for those guys. Their roster is talented, and they are extremely well coached. I would not have it any other way. On selection day, we painted a picture of this exact matchup. Obviously, there was a lot of baseball to be played in the [Tucson] Regional and [Tucson] Super Regional, but I had my reasons at that time for bringing this up. We are excited about it.”
While it is not known yet who Vanderbilt will start on the mound, it will likely be either Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter. Kumar is 13-3 with a 2.46 ERA and 155 strikeouts. Leiter is 10-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 156 strikeouts. Both will be Arizona’s toughest pitcher yet, but Johnson looks forward to the challenge.
“What a great opportunity for our program to face one of the best pitchers in college baseball,” Johnson said. “They have very good players throughout their lineup. They know what they are doing, and they are very talented. That is how I feel about our team, so I think it is going to be a tremendous matchup.”
Arizona boasts many talented players on their team, but center fielder Donta’ Williams stands apart from his team at times. In the Tucson Super Regional, Williams batted .571 with two home runs, six RBI’s and seven runs scored. Williams has also made diving catches in the outfield that should have earned ESPN top-10 recognition. In the end, Williams is a team player who is more thrilled about winning a title with his team than padding his stat sheet.
“This is a dream come true,” Williams said. “Our team has been through a lot this year, but it is a part of our identity and who we are. It is a great feeling to experience it with the great group of guys that we have, and we are not done yet.”
Williams has been a crucial piece for Arizona, reaching base safely in 47 consecutive games any way he can. The team has nicknamed Williams “The Engine” for his stellar play and how much he helps the team offensively and defensively.
“Whatever I can do to get on base,” Williams said. Base hit, walk, hit by pitch or [intentional walk.] That is what I like to do.”
First baseman Branden Boissiere echoed Williams’ message of doing whatever it takes to win and not complaining about anything.
“I am just trying everything I can to help the team win,” Boissiere said. “Wherever I am in the lineup, I do not look at it too differently.”
Arizona will faceoff against Vanderbilt at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska in game one of the college world series on Saturday, June 19 at 4 p.m. MST on ESPN.
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