Arizona reaches CWS finals with win over FSU
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Arizona coach Andy Lopez couldn’t imagine taking a hotter team to the College World Series finals.
That’s where the Wildcats are heading after their 10-3 victory over Florida State on Thursday. They’ll go into the best-of-three championship round Sunday coming off nine straight wins and 16 in their last 18 games.
“I’m not sure we’re invincible. In fact, I’m quite confident we’re not,” Lopez said. “We’re playing good baseball. But, honestly, we’ve done that for more than a weekend or so.”
Florida State gave the Wildcats lots of help, committing three of their four errors in Arizona’s six-run first inning.
Freshman starter Brandon Leibrandt was pulled after he recorded just one out for the Seminoles, who used eight pitchers to tie a CWS record for a nine-inning game.
Robert Refsnyder and Bobby Brown homered in a span of three at-bats in the fourth as the Wildcats built their lead to 10-1.
“About the easiest way to sum it up is say we got taken to the woodshed today,” FSU coach Mike Martin said.
Kurt Heyer (13-2) worked 7 1-3 innings while taking the national lead for wins as the Wildcats (46-17) won Bracket 1.
Arizona will be playing for its fourth national championship and first since 1986 after losing in regionals the past two years. The Wildcats did not qualify for the NCAA tournament in 2009.
“Having the experience of losing and feeling what it feels like to go back on a charter plane and nobody talks, it’s a depressing feeling,” Refsnyder said. “I think we’re on a mission this year, myself and Kurt and the other juniors, to really get to the College World Series, and now we’re in the position to win a national title. That’s what we came here to do.”
Arizona’s surge began in early May after it lost a series at Oregon. Lopez challenged his players, and they went on to win the Pac-12 co-championship and then sweep through the regional and super regional at home.
“I grabbed the group together and said, `Listen, if you want to win the Pac 12 or host regionals and do things that we’ve set as goals, we can’t lose another series from here on, end of story. To be very candid with you, they’ve played exceptionally good baseball from that point on. And so far so good. They’ll continue the process, hopefully.”
The Wildcats’ run at the CWS started with a 4-3, 12-inning win over Florida State. Konner Wade threw a complete-game shutout two nights later against UCLA, and then they won easily in the rematch with the Seminoles.
The Seminoles (50-17) were making their 21st appearance in Omaha and no other team has played in the CWS as many times without winning a championship. Martin has been coach for 15 of those trips to Omaha.
He said the championship drought isn’t testing his patience.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’ll tell you exactly how I feel. It’s Christmastime. You get to come to Omaha, Nebraska, and experience the week of Christmas with great people. You’ll have memories that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
“No, I don’t feel like Job. I feel like King David, because I am on top of the world with people that will fight for you for 27 outs in a game.”
Leibrandt (8-3) was knocked out after 4 1-3 innings of the Seminoles’ first-round loss to Arizona. On Thursday, he threw 31 pitches, only 15 strikes, and his throwing error set the stage for Arizona’s big first inning.
Leibrandt’s struggle marked the third time in this CWS that a starting pitcher lasted an inning or less. Florida’s Hudson Randall made it one inning against Kent State on Monday and UCLA’s Zack Weiss was pulled after one-third of an inning against Florida State on Tuesday.
The last time so many CWS starters failed to get more than three outs was in 1995, when five got the early hook.
Arizona’s six runs in the first resulted from four singles, three walks, a sacrifice fly and the three errors. No team at the CWS had committed as many errors in an inning since Miami had the same number in a 2004 game against Cal State Fullerton.
Heyer scattered nine hits, walked three and struck out three. His 7 1-3 innings raised his nation-leading total to 153, the most of any pitcher in Division I since 2006.
Arizona has gotten at least seven innings from its starter in each of its eight NCAA tournament games.
“The only thing I would probably take away from my performance is that I can’t walk three guys,” Heyer said. “That’s unacceptable, very uncharacteristic of me. One walk I’ll tolerate, but three is unbelievable for me. You take away those three walks, I’m probably still pitching.”
The Wildcats came into the CWS with a .333 batting average. After hitting just .219 in their first two games (16 of 73), they collected 15 hits. Refsnyder went 3 for 4, four of his teammates had two hits apiece and Johnny Field extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a single in the eighth.
“They did not give us any room to breathe,” Martin said.