June 1, 2012
By Adam Gonzales -
Last weekend, Arizona baseball made history with its series versus Arizona State at Hi Corbett.
The Wildcats won the first game of the series 1-0, on a walk-off double by Seth Mejias-Brean. Arizona dropped game two of the series 9-7, but game three proved to be one of the biggest of the season. Not only were the Wildcats trying to win the series against the Sun Devils for the first time since 2008, they were trying to do something they hadn't done for 20 years--win the Pac-12 Conference title.
At the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied at seven and Johnny Field, the Pac-12 batting champion, came up to bat. There were two outs with runners on second and third bases, so a base hit would win the game for the Wildcats.
"I liked our chances," Head Coach Andy Lopez said of the play. "I don't think you ever know if a guy is going to get a hit, it is such a crazy sport. But I really thought he was going to make good, solid contact."
Sure enough, on the second pitch of the at bat, Field ripped a base hit down the left field line and the Wildcats clinched a share of the Pac-12 Championship. As Field's teammates saw the ball go over the third baseman's head, they stormed the field.
"It was a big adrenaline rush," junior pitcher Kurt Heyer said. "It was a whole new level of excitement. It is hard to explain, especially because there were a lot of ups and downs in that game. It was just a battle of wills. They gave in on that last pitch and Johnny just smoked it."
"I knew when he hit that, that we had won the Pac-12," Brown said.
"As soon as he hit it, I knew it was going over the third baseman's head and I knew that we were going to win," Refsnyder said. "I knew that we were going to be at least co-Pac-12 champions, which is really exciting. I've never had the opportunity to be conference champions."
The series against Arizona State could go down as one of the best series between the two teams in a long time.
"All the games came down to the last inning," junior shortstop Alex Mejia, the Pac-12 Player of the Year said. "We battled through all three games and the pitchers did a good job of keeping us in a close enough place where we were able to make a move."
Not only did the games make a mark in history, they gave Arizona a chance to host its first regional in 20 years.
The excitement all started in August of 2011, when it was announced that the team would be moving to Hi Corbett field. The move proved to be a big success.
The attendance was higher than it had been in years. Athletic Director Greg Byrne announced on Twitter that there were $98,500 in tickets sold just in the ASU series, and only $69,000 was made in ticket revenue last season alone.
Although the season has already been a success, the Wildcats are not looking past this weekend.
"Right now, we just need to get ready for this weekend," Mejias-Brean said. "We just need to go out and play."
Lopez has plenty of postseason experience in his career. He has taken Arizona and Florida to Omaha three different times for the College World Series. He also knows how important it is to host a regional.
"It is a lot better from our standpoint just because we are in a very comfortable zone," Lopez said. "It is just about players being comfortable and it is a much easier route for them. The intangibles are here. If you happen to be trailing, it is different when you are playing in front of 4,000 people that are supporting you."
The players also look forward to playing this weekend.
"It's a huge deal," Brown said. "Since we have played here this year, we're used to the dimensions of the field. We know that other teams are going to come in here and are going to be trying to hit home runs and that's hard here. And we know how to play this field, and other teams are going to come here and not be as comfortable."
The players also recognize how big this is for not only the baseball team and the university, but how important this is to the city of Tucson.
"It is huge," Heyer said. "We have not hosted a regional in 20 years so it is very nice for the town. We are really happy that we could get this done for Tucson."
The Wildcats will host New Mexico State, Louisville, and Missouri for the Tucson regional in a double-elimination tournament. They start the postseason off against Big 12 champions Missouri Friday night following the Louisville-New Mexico State game.