UA junior's top pitch a key for 2013...
Nov. 1, 2012
By Matt Park, Communication Services
NOTE: The University of Arizona baseball team has quietly been conducting fall drills at Hi Corbett Field facilities since Oct. 4, with several more weeks to go. Coach Andy Lopez and staff expect a strong team for 2013, notably with some serious experience on the mound. Here's a look at one of those veterans, Konner Wade, and his growth in 2012.
The coming season offers a new opportunity for Arizona baseball pitcher Konner Wade. An established starter entering his third year, he'll be a role model for younger UA players and plans to develop a strong chemistry with them.
"I am trying to follow the footsteps of the leaders last year," Wade says. "Winning the National Championship was nice, but we have to focus on the upcoming year. We need to have the young freshmen buy into the program, and I need to be there for them when they need advice."
That portends some more good things in store for Wildcat baseball.
In their incredible journey to claim a fourth NCAA baseball title in school history, the Wildcats posted some unbelievable stats at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
After sweeping the South Carolina Gamecocks in the final round of the College World Series, the Wildcats finished the season with an 11-game winning streak, giving them a perfect record of 10-0 in postseason play. As a team, the Wildcats had a batting average of .353, and they batted .469 with runners in scoring position.
The Wildcat pitching was just as impressive in the postseason. Arizona pitchers posted an average ERA of 1.91, and opponents batted .200 against the Wildcats with runners in scoring position.
Sophomore pitcher Wade was one of many key contributors who helped produce these numbers. The right-hander returns for his third season as an experienced veteran on the Arizona pitching staff.
"Once Rob(ert Refsnyder) caught that ball in right, I don't remember much," Wade recalled. "All I remember is being on the bottom of the pile, and with all that weight and excitement, I felt my lungs were about to explode."
In the second round against UCLA, Wade threw a complete-game shutout without giving up a walk, the first pitcher to accomplish the feat in the College World Series since 1972. Wade took the mound in the opener of the Championship Series against South Carolina and threw nine innings of one-run ball.
During the span of the postseason, Wade posted a 1.29 ERA with three straight complete-game victories.
"Heading into the postseason, I was feeling good with all my pitches," Wade said. "Plus, I was pretty amped up to play in front of thousands of people, but once the games started, I was able to forget about all distractions."
But dominance on the mound wasn't always a guarantee for Wade prior to the College World Series.
Wade headed into the 2012 regular season coming off an impressive freshman year. In his first year pitching for Arizona, Wade recorded the lowest ERA (3.21) for any freshman in Arizona history.
Expectations were high for Wade in 2012, and while his form clicked in the College World Series, Wade experienced inconsistency throughout the regular season, especially in the first half. Some moments that reflected his struggle was the game against Eastern Michigan on March 10 when Wade allowed seven runs. A week later, Washington State put up six against him. Wade struggled with control due to a change in his grip of his two-seam fastball.
"I wasn't throwing strikes with my new fastball grip," Wade said. "There were games when my fastball had too much movement or no movement at all. I didn't have a full grasp over my new fastball."
The easy way out for Wade in this situation would have been to go back throwing his old fastball, especially after experiencing success with it in his first year. However, Wade wanted to master the new pitch, so he fought through the adversity.
"My first fastball was flat and didn't have much movement which made it easier to control," Wade said. "But I wanted more movement on it, so I changed grips. I was confident in my ability to learn the new pitch."
Wade was keen on developing movement with his fastball because he gained a new understanding about the approach of getting batters out from Head Coach Andy Lopez and Pitching Coach Shaun Cole. They emphasized to their pitchers about the effectiveness of producing groundouts rather than strikeouts.
"I was pretty young coming to Arizona," Wade said. "I always had the idea that striking out batters was what made a pitcher great. Then Coach Lopez and Cole taught me it was more efficient for a pitcher to get groundouts than strikeouts."
Groundouts mean fewer pitches, and with fewer pitches, pitchers are able stay in the game longer. Movement on a pitch also deceives a hitter into swinging at the wrong location, which results in the hitter getting jammed or swinging at the top half of the ball.
"My new fastball has a sinking tail action," Wade said. "The pitch will tail into the arm side of a right handed hitter and away from a lefty."
As the season progressed, Wade started to see improvement in his control over his new fastball, and in the final months of the season, his new fastball dominated his pitch selection.
"I throw my fastball about 75% of the time," Wade said.
As a result, Wade was able to pitch three straight complete games in the College World Series, and he now has a National Championship to show for it.
The 2013 season offers a new opportunity for Wade. Entering his third year as an established starter, Wade will be a role model for the young Arizona players. Wade embraces the leadership role and plans to develop a strong chemistry with them.
"I am trying to follow the footsteps of the leaders last year," Wade said. "Winning the National Championship was nice, but we have to focus on the upcoming year. We need to have the young freshmen buy into the program, and I need to be there for them when they need advice."