OMAHA, Neb.– The College World Series is all about history. After nearly seven decades of ballgames, its official record book is thicker than an old family bible. And it too is filled with names and tales that, to the college baseball community, are considered the scripture of the sport. Even the most casual CWS observers know about the achievements of USC, Texas, LSU, Miami and Arizona State.
They might not realize that the other school from the Grand Canyon State, that state’s namesake university, has also written a huge part of that history. The Arizona Wildcats have spent the last week and a half climbing the charts in every statistical category from CWS games won to all-time winning percentage. Now they are one win away from joining archrival Arizona State as a five-time College World Series champion.
“I preach all the time to kids to appreciate the history of this program,” explained head coach Jay Johnson, in his first year at the wheel of that program. “Every win for us is a chance to write another page of that history.”
On Monday night, in the opening game of the best-of-three finals against Coastal Carolina, Arizona dipped its pen in the quill and went to work. Their hands were guided by an historic pitching performance, a masterpiece that proved to be the lone tipping point in a contest packed with sharply played defense, very much a literal game of inches.
“Yeah, Cole [Schaefer] hadn’t been out there in a while … and I had a second baseman [Tyler Chadwick] who’s not played there in four years and those two guys hadn’t played together,” Gilmore explained of his relief pitcher and the middle infield of Chadwick and Paez. Also a first-time CWS coach, Gilmore drew his lips in a little as he dissected the seventh inning. “It could have been potentially a lot different if [we] just had made one simple play right there.”
But he added later, in the tunnel outside of the media room, “Yes, the seventh was rough. But we also jumped right back into that rhythm again. That fly ball goes six inches further … you know, it was all just that close … it’s a game of inches, right?”
It is indeed. A game when “that close” wasn’t close enough. As for those inches, that might be the difference between winning a national championship or not. Inches traveled by baseballs, inches bent out those baseballs by an all-time pitching performance, and perhaps one more column inch added to that College World Series record book.
“There’s still work to do and we know that,” Cloney added before heading to the Arizona team bus. “Tomorrow night I’ll be able to sit back and watch them do it.”