Commentary

Arizona earns its CWS crown

Originally Published: June 26, 2012
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez is big on plans.

The Wildcats know his words well, yet Lopez preached to them again Monday morning as the team gathered for breakfast hours before its 4-1 victory over South Carolina to win the program's first national title in 26 years at the College World Series.

Have a plan, Lopez told the team.

"Don't think about your plan on the bus," he said. "If you're working on it then, you're too late."

[+] EnlargeRobert Refsnyder
Harry How/Getty ImagesRobert Refsnyder, the College World Series' MOP, scored the go-ahead run for the Wildcats in the top of the ninth inning.

Well, how's this for a plan? Junior Robert Refsnyder, Arizona's brightest offensive star in the championship-series sweep of the two-time defending national champion Gamecocks, devised his plan seven weeks ago.

The Wildcats lost a series to Oregon in early May. And after the decisive Sunday loss, Refsnyder took offense when Oregon pitcher David Wylie, a friend, played the bagpipes in celebration at Hi Corbett Field, the Wildcats' home park.

"I'd like to thank Oregon for that defining moment in our season," Refsnyder said. "We talk about it every single weekend. We were really hoping Oregon would make it to Omaha so we could eliminate Oregon here."

The Ducks missed out, losing at home in super-regional play to Kent State.

Plans can change. But for Refsnyder, the motivation remained. It drove him through the postseason. He remembered those bagpipes Sunday when he homered in the first inning.

When he threw out Adam Matthews at third base later that night, he remembered. Just like when he singled to open the ninth inning on Monday against South Carolina closer Matt Price, igniting the Wildcats' game-winning, three-run rally.

His night at TD Ameritrade Park ended on the field as Refsnyder accepted the most outstanding player award for this CWS. He remembered then, too.

Usually, Refsnyder said, he's not inclined to share so much insight.

"But now that the season is over," he said, "I think it's appropriate."

One moment -- disrespectful in the eyes of a few Wildcats -- helped fuel a monumental run this month. Arizona went 10-0 in the NCAA postseason. It never trailed in five CWS games.

That's the power of a plan.

The Wildcats slayed the dragon to win this crown. South Carolina won 22 straight postseason games and 12 straight in Omaha before a loss last week to Arkansas.

After the Wildcats won 5-1 in the championship-series opener, Lopez played by his own rules; he stuck to the plan, choosing logic over emotion. The veteran coach opted to start sophomore James Farris, who hadn't pitched in more than three weeks, against South Carolina ace Michael Roth -- arguably the best pitcher in CWS history.

Early Monday, before that meeting over breakfast, Lopez said he counted on a third game Tuesday. He didn't like the Monday pitching matchup so much.

"Michael Roth is a legend," Lopez said.

But Lopez wanted to hold Arizona ace Kurt Heyer another day. And while Roth was outstanding, allowing one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings, Farris was better. The Gamecocks mustered one run on two hits in his 7 2/3 innings.

"He was spectacular," Lopez said. "Absolutely spectacular."

[+] EnlargeAndy Lopez
Harry How/Getty ImagesJames Farris hadn't pitched since June 3 for Arizona, but showed no signs of rust, lasting 7 2/3 innings while allowing two hits and one run.

With both starters replaced, Arizona freshman reliever Mathew Troupe escaped a jam in the bottom of the eighth with a strikeout of Joey Pankake.

Refsnyder started the ninth-inning rally with a single. After a bunt and an intentional walk, Lopez wanted to pinch hit for Brandon Dixon.

Assistant coach Matt Siegel shook his head no. Lopez said OK, and Dixon slapped a Price curveball for a double down the left-field line. Refsnyder scored. Then freshman Trent Gilbert drilled a two-run hit into right field.

Before the bottom of the ninth, Lopez left the dugout. The coach had to clear his mind. Stay logical. Forget the emotion. Stick with the plan.

Ten minutes later, his team collapsed in a dogpile on the infield. Arizona staffers watched from the field as the Wildcats received their trophy.

Standing near home plate, athletic director Greg Byrne smiled as Lopez's players showered him with a cooler full of liquid.

"He's a genuinely good man," Byrne said. "He cares about people. It doesn't matter if it's the guy under the stadium who cleans things up or one of our biggest fans. He treats everyone the same."

Byrne listened Monday morning during Lopez's breakfast speech. Before the Wildcats left their hotel on Monday afternoon for the two-minute drive to the stadium, Byrne stood with his coach in the lobby. Lopez greeted fans. He hugged friends.

From afar, you might have thought he was about to coach a Pac-12 game in May. Maybe against Oregon.

"I think it reflects on how the team plays," Byrne said. "We made plays when we had to. We weren't tight. It's a great reflection of who he is as a coach and a person."

But why so calm?

By now, the reason is clear. The coach and his team had a plan.

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