Wade comes up big to send UA to Omaha
TUCSON, Ariz. -- All Arizona coach Andy Lopez wanted starter Konner Wade to do was to have fun and not get "wound up in the excitement."
The right-hander did have fun, and his team had plenty more afterward Saturday.
Wade turned into a gem of consistency as UA defeated St. John's 7-4 to complete a two-game sweep and send the Wildcats to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the 16th appearance in school history.
Arizona, the first qualifier for this year's CWS, is 42-17. That's the most wins for the Wildcats since 1989.
Wade dominated on the mound Saturday, scattering six hits in a game that was never really in doubt after UA jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. He didn't walk a batter.
"I just tried to go out there and pound the strike zone," said Wade, who improved to 9-3 on the season. "I knew they'd be really aggressive. They're a lot like Stanford. I knew if I kept the ball down and threw strikes I'd be able to get outs."
Saturday's walk-in-the-park outing was a far cry from his inexplicable day against New Mexico State back in March. In that game, pitching in a relief role, he threw 22 pitches, 20 of which were balls. Wade was as perplexed as anyone.
"It was definitely a growing stage of the season," Wade said. "I now have more of an appreciation for moments like this. I try to grow from those things."
He has, both mentally and physically. In the ninth inning, with UA leading 7-3, Wade gave up back-to-back hits to start the inning. Lopez walked to the mound but said afterward he knew he wouldn't be removing Wade from the game.
"(It) was the look in his eye," Lopez said, adding that he had also observed Wade's demeanor the inning before. "The look in his eye ... he was going to be fine. He was not done."
A double play brought the 3,907 fans to their feet, and Sean O'Hare's groundout a batter later started the celebration.
"That was huge," Wade said of the double play.
Arizona last made the College World Series in 2004, but this will be Lopez's fifth Series. He took two Florida teams, a Pepperdine team and now two Arizona teams. He won the national title in 1992 at Pepperdine.
"This one is pretty special," Lopez said, adding that there was a time in the mid-2000s when he was thinking about leaving UA for another program before being persuaded to stay by his wife, Linda. He's now headed back to the World Series -- and with his son, David, on the UA roster.
"I personally wanted to leave. I'm sorry to say that, but I did. I just couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, and sorry that it hurt some feelings," Lopez said. "I've had two sons go with me to Omaha two or three times as bat boys. Now, I have to get them to shave. Now, (David) will be part of a program that is in the College World Series."
And with Arizona having a good chance to win it all.
"I like them," Lopez said of the team's chances of winning it all. "I really do."
The team has been dominant of late, going 16-4 over the past month. More recently, the Cats have gone 6-0, beating the likes of Arizona State, Louisville, Missouri and now St. John's. UA is 29-1 when holding opponents to four or fewer runs.
"(They are) probably the most talented team that we've played this year when it comes to athleticism, defensive energy, and offensively they (keep) the pressure on you," St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer said. "They command the strike zone. They handle the bat and are well coached. They deserved to win.
"If they keep going like this ... and the way they are playing with their lineup, they have a chance."