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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats’ young players made the difference in championship run

Gerry Melendez
Arizona Wildcats' Joey Rickard, left, congratulates Joseph Maggi, who scored in the third inning against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, Monday, June 25, 2012. (Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT)

OMAHA, Neb. — In sports, it’s often the overlooked plays and players that make the biggest difference between a champion and the runner-up.

Take Arizona baseball’s talented crop of freshmen — who came up the biggest on the most important night in college baseball — for example.

The 2012 Wildcats were mostly a veteran team, with five juniors drafted and a fifth-year senior that figures to fit in somewhere at the next level.

As is customary, Arizona leaned on the production of older players like Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year Alex Mejia and pitcher Kurt Heyer, the Pac-12 pitcher of the year who led the NCAA in regular season wins with 12.

“This junior class had expectations,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said. “They had a tremendous vision of accomplishment this year. They couldn’t be freshmen this year. Real proud of these freshmen. Real proud of them.”

But when it counted — when the Wildcats’ junior class was unable to make something happen, when in the final game of the season Arizona had runners in scoring position and three freshman in a row came up to bat and drove in the final three runs — the freshmen stepped up and proved that age is just a number.

Arizona had four freshmen and one sophomore that had major contributing roles in the regular season and championship run, and figure to be the next wave of Arizona baseball greats after winning a national title together in their first season.

“To see the program in the hands of young guys like this, it’s very promising for Arizona,” junior Robert Refsnyder said.

Second baseman Trent Gilbert, possibly Arizona’s weakest defender, whose .272 batting average is the lowest of the starting lineup and the only starter without a batting average above .300, had the walk off hit of a 7-6 victory over St. John’s in the Tucson Super Regional. He topped that Monday night with his two-run single in the top of the ninth inning that scored the final two runs of Arizona’s season. Gibert also made a potential game-saving diving catch off a Tanner English liner that could have gone extra bases and would have certainly scored two, as the bases were loaded with one out. The next play, confetti started to fall and the fireworks were lit.

“Some might see as a surprise, because those juniors are our main contributors, but I thought we could get the job done too,” Gilbert said. “If we come up in those situations, I’m confident that we can get it done.”

Sophomore Brandon Dixon, who replaces fellow freshman Joseph Maggi at first base as a defensive substitution, hit the first Arizona postseason home run in Hi Corbett Field’s short history as their home in the regional round, and sprung a double down the line in Monday’s game to score Robert Refsnyder and put the Wildcats on top 2-1.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Lopez said. “I was going to pinch hit for him. My assistant coach Matt Siegel looked at me and shook his head and I went, OK, I’ll go with the guy’s gut. He came through.”

Starting catcher Riley Moore led the entire World Series in
batting average. In a CWS that featured countless future professional players and All-Americans, Moore swung the biggest bat of them all. Moore also started 61 games at catcher for the Wildcats.

Freshmen relievers Mathew Troupe and Tyler Crawford didn’t have to do much all season, only making five appearances between them.

When it mattered, the duo came up big to throw almost four innings of two-hit ball against Florida State in the CWS opener, and Troupe closed out the championship game for the UA allowing one hit in 1 1/3 innings of work with two strikeouts in Monday night’s game. Arizona’s talented quintet of juniors is assumedly pursuing Major League dreams now that the season is over, but who knows?
Maybe in two seasons, we’ll be talking about these promising freshmen as the quintet of juniors leading the way.

“What a future coming up clutch here,” Moore said. “It only adds to the future we have ahead of us.”

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