Nov. 13, 2012
TUCSON, Ariz. - Homecoming weekend was exactly that for the national champion Arizona baseball team. For the first time since bringing home the national championship trophy in June, the 2012 Wildcat baseball team was back together to celebrate yet another honor: induction into the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.
The Wildcats, who won the school's fourth national title on the big diamond, were officially inducted -- along with other former student-athletes and coaches -- at a ceremony and reception last Friday evening inside McKale Center to kick off a weekend of Hall of Fame festivities over the school's Homecoming weekend.
McKale Center was a fitting meeting place.
After claiming the College World Series title from two-time defending champion South Carolina on June 25, Arizona returned to Tucson the next day to be greeted by more than 5,000 jubilant Wildcat fans inside the storied basketball arena. With them, the Wildcats brought home the national championship trophy, their "Wildcats Own Omaha" t-shirts and a permanent place in the hearts of Arizona fans.
The team had not been together since that day.
Several players departed for summer ball that evening or the next morning. Others, like College World Series Most Outstanding Player Robert Refsnyder, would go on to begin professional careers. He was joined by fellow All-Americans Kurt Heyer, Alex Mejia and Seth Mejias-Brean. Former All-Pac-12 outfielder Joey Rickard also signed a professional contact, and senior All-Pac-12 designated hitter Bobby Brown, fresh off graduation in May, also continued his baseball career elsewhere.
Two months later, a new group of Wildcats arrived on campus for the start of the fall semester in August, joining a strong group of returning players hungry to get back to Omaha. Andy Lopez, the reigning National Coach of the Year, quickly returned the focus to the basics of baseball as fall practices began in early October to begin the quest of competing next spring as defending national champions.
But for a few days this past weekend, it was time to remember, honor and celebrate the 2012 championship team and everything it accomplished.
The Wildcats, who never lost a series on the road, won a share of their first Pac-12 Conference championship since 1992. They hosted a regional for the first time since that season, and won it in convincing fashion by a combined 47-10 over three games. A week later, it was a two-game sweep over St. John's in the Tucson Super Regional at Hi Corbett Field - a hometown sendoff before the memorable run in Omaha.
Once at the College World Series, Arizona never trailed. A 12-inning, 4-3 victory in the opener over Florida State gave the Wildcats a dose of confidence and a mindset that the title was theirs to lose. Konner Wadepitched a complete game shutout without a walk - the first such performance at the CWS since 1972 - against conference co-champion UCLA in a 4-0 win in the second game. Several days later, the Wildcats crushed the Seminoles, 10-3, to secure a spot in the championship series.
Arizona showed no fear when it was matched up against the reigning national champion Gamecocks. Wade again took to the hill and tossed a shutout, while Refsnyder spared the Wildcats' bats with a first-inning homer to set the tone in a 5-1 victory.
The next day, with the title in their sights, the Wildcats sent sophomore James Farris to the mound to counter CWS legend Michael Roth. Farris went toe-to-toe with the All-American and even out-lasted him. Tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth inning, the Wildcats scored three times, including the first two go-ahead runs on Brandon Dixon's double down the left field line. Freshman Mathew Troupe, despite loading the bases, closed the game in the ninth to cap and remarkable run over the final two months of the season in which the club won 18 of its final 20, 11-consecutive and all 10 in the postseason.
Timely hitting, spectacular defense, dominant pitching, unselfishness and total team effort keyed the Wildcats in their late season run. In their 10 postseason games, UA hit .353 as a team and outscored foes 29-7 in two-out runs batted in situations. The defense turned 12 double plays and committed just nine errors to their opponents' 21 charged miscues. The pitching staff posted a 1.91 earned run average and walked just 16 in 94.0 innings of work. And for that unselfishness? The Wildcats had 19 sacrifice bunts, while their opponents had none in those last 10 games.
Beyond the numbers, the trophies and the memorabilia, the 2012 Wildcats were the consummate team. The title was simply the culmination of a process - everything from offseason weight lifting, practice, study hall, travel, etc. - that developed a championship team. And that process is what could be celebrated as much as anything last weekend.
For a couple days, everyone could take a step back and truly share in the joy of the championship together. The festivities included a ride on a Tucson Fire Engine - like the ones that greeted them with a water display upon arrival to McKale in June - in the Homecoming parade on Saturday morning. Then it was a rousing ovation from more than 50,000 fans at Arizona Stadium at halftime of the football team's 56-31 victory over Colorado later in the afternoon.
After the football game, it was over to the clubhouse at Hi Corbett Field which has been newly decorated with images on the doors and walls commemorating the championship team. It was there, with food and desserts, where the festive weekend wrapped up for the players, coaches and staff who share so many memories that will never be forgotten.
Now, officially in the UA Sports Hall of Fame, those memories can be cherished by all for many years to come.