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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats’ junior class grows together, wins together

OMAHA, Neb. – They entered together as oblivious freshmen, on the hopes and promises of a coach they barely knew. He prophesized that they would have a chance to be in this exact spot, two victories away from claiming the fourth national championship in Arizona baseball history.

Arizona baseball’s junior class, comprised of center fielder Joey Rickard, All-American shortstop Alex Mejia, right fielder Robert Refsnyder, pitching ace Kurt Heyer, and Tucson-native Seth Mejias-Brean has felt the lowest of valleys in their time as Wildcats, losing in back-to-back regionals before their run in Omaha this season.

“We came to campus three years ago coming in here with a mission,” Heyer said. “Lopez recruited me and Rob, and said that we were going to play for a national championship.”

Now, with Major League Baseball likely taking all five of them after they leave Omaha, they have more than a fighter’s chance at winning the coveted NCAA trophy that head coach Andy Lopez promises recruiting classes they will have a chance to earn, should they choose to come to become Wildcats.

Arizona’s “Fab 5” stepped on campus after a somewhat of a lost year for both Lopez and the Wildcats program. The 2009 group, which Lopez calls a “lot of knuckleheads,” did not want to participate in class or on the field.

Enter this group, and almost immediately, the team was improved. Heyer was the opening night starter for Arizona as a true freshman, an 8-1 win in which Heyer struck out 13, hinting that something special was brewing.

Thirty-one wins later, the group of superfrosh had all started at least 53 of a possible 58 games, and Heyer had the lowest ERA on the team, at 3.26 in 16 starts.

“Every team that comes here wants to win, but they don’t know how to win,” Heyer said.

Despite the dawn of a new era of accountability and pride for Arizona baseball, Mejia and Lopez still describe themselves as a postseason team that was “spitting oil,” and not playing to their potential when the Fort Worth, Texas NCAA regional began. Arizona sputtered, leaked, and lost to Baylor in its final game of the season.

“Real bumpy road freshman year,” Refsnyder said. “I think we had the talent, but the chemistry wasn’t there.”

The next year, certainly, they’d be better, riding the success of their newfound experience and a rejuvenated head coach. Instead, they ended up falling in the same fashion, losing to Texas A&M in the College Station regional championship 3-0, denying them a chance to even make it to a super regional.

Two chances, and two failures for the quintet. Time was running out to get to Omaha, as at least some of the group had played well enough to be selected in this year’s MLB Draft.

As juniors, they were the best and most consistent players on the team. Lopez’s heralded junior class had the necessary gumption and skill to make it to Omaha, and after a move from Frank Sancet Stadium to the city-owned Hi Corbett Field, the Wildcats won 36 games and the chance to host their first ever NCAA regional.

“It’s been an easy group to work with,” Lopez said. “They really have. I think the biggest thing, and it sounds crazy, we moved to Hi Corbett. We got a chance to host.”

The Wildcats, led by hitting from their junior class, and a defense spearheaded by defensive playmakers Pac-12 Player of the Year Mejia and third baseman Mejias-Brean, Arizona crushed regional competition by a total score of 47-10, putting themselves in a position to host the first super regional in Arizona baseball history.

After disposing of St. John’s in a super regional sweep, the Wildcats and the not-so-young Wildcats found themselves in TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, where Lopez promised they’d be if they followed his two rules: “Be on time, and do the right things,” Lopez said. “That’s it.”

“What they’ve accomplished, and they’re not done yet, I hope, but what they’ve gotten done is up to this point is basically what we strive for every day,” Lopez said.

The juniors, who all entered Omaha with jaw-dropping batting averages over .300 after five postseason games took their time disposing of Florida State, defeating them 4-3 in 12 innings, thanks to Heyer, who pitched 9.1 innings in the game but was not a factor in the decision.

Sophomore starter Konner Wade shutout UCLA on Tuesday, but not without the help of three of the total four runs scored by Refsnyder, Mejias-Brean and Mejia. The Seminoles forced a second game with Arizona after eliminating UCLA, but – to put it nicely – the Wildcats ended that one quickly, scoring six runs in the first inning and four in the fourth to eliminate Florida State Thursday afternoon, 10-3.

Now, here they are. Promises from Lopez kept, potential from five players realized and two wins away from a national title.

“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 the College World Series and now we’re in a position to win a national title.”

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