Twenty-six years ago, Omaha was filled with Cardinal and Navy. Arizona Baseball had won the national title with a 10-2 victory over Florida State.
On Sunday, Arizona will attempt to win its first national title with the new three-game championship series format. The Wildcats will face South Carolina for the right to claim bragging rights as the best team in the country.
The Gamecocks (49-18) are certainly ready for the challenge, as they are two time defending National Champions. In the past three seasons, including the current one, South Carolina has only lost two games in Omaha. Arizona will have to double that number in order to steal the title.
The Wildcats do have the advantage in the series. They have won every game so far in the postseason, with their last victory coming over third-ranked Florida State 10-3. In addition, Arizona hasn’t played since Thursday and has an extra day of rest over the opposing team.
The extra rest will pay off in the form of pitching. Arizona will start Konner Wade in game one of the series on Sunday night. He is well rested and hasn’t pitched since last Sunday when he shut out the second-ranked UCLA Bruins in a 4-0 win.
South Carolina will be forced to start Forrest Koumas, a sophomore who has only started three games all season. He has appeared in 17 games, with a 2-2 record to go along with three saves. Koumas last started in May against LSU, pitching just four and a third innings, giving up a run on five hits.
Even though the Gamecocks have experience on their side, Arizona is streaking at the right time. It is winners in 16 of the last 18 games and nine straight.
The Wildcats are playing their best baseball of the season and it is showing. They are batting well, averaging six runs per game in Omaha and batting .277. They are even starting to hit with some power, as Bobby Brown and Robert Refsnyder both hit homeruns in TD Ameritrade Park in the elimination game against Florida State.
The pitching has been equally as great. Heyer, Arizona’s ace, pitched twice against the Seminoles, giving up just five runs (three earned) in 15 innings of work. Wade went the distance, shutting out UCLA. With some bullpen relief that hasn’t been needed much over the past few weeks, Arizona’s team ERA in Omaha is a collective 1.20.
South Carolina’s pitching isn’t far behind. With a team ERA of 1.60 in Omaha, the Gamecock pitchers will be just as hard to hit as the Wildcat pitchers. South Carolina’s ace Michael Roth has also pitched two games in Omaha, with similar numbers to Heyer. He has thrown 15 and a third innings, giving up four runs on nine hits.
The Gamecocks also have the ability to put runs on the board, scoring seven against top-ranked Florida. Though they have only hit one long ball in Omaha, South Carolina has totaled 42 on the season, twenty more than Arizona. Christian Walker, the team’s top batter, has eleven of those homers and is leading the team in multiple categories, including batting average (.319), hits (75), walks (48), and RBI (55). His success could be the difference in the series.
Arizona and South Carolina have proven that they are the top two teams in the country. Now, they will battle for the right to be called the best team. With outstanding pitching, each game should be close going into the late innings, making for classic games. First to two wins gets the trophy.