Arizona coach: Youngsters can offset loss of stars
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Arizona doesn't plan on being a one-year wonder even though the catalysts for the Wildcats' first national championship since 1986 probably are heading off to professional baseball in the next few weeks.
Coach Andy Lopez said a strong group of freshmen and sophomores on this year's 48-17 team is capable of offsetting the expected departures of junior stars like Alex Mejia, Robert Refsnyder and Kurt Heyer.
In addition to the promising returning personnel, Lopez said, Arizona has an intangible working in its favor: confidence.
The Wildcats' 11th-year coach said the good vibes his Pepperdine team carried into the next season after winning the 1992 national title elevated the play of both veterans and newcomers.
"We lost a ton of guys. People were thinking we weren't going to be very good," Lopez said Tuesday. "We won 43 games and made it to the (regional) championship game in Tempe, playing for the right to come back to Omaha.
"I don't believe you can put a value or a number on that experience that you gain in playing Florida State and UCLA and South Carolina in front of 24,000 people in Omaha. There won't be a day that goes by that the guys we have coming back won't reflect on that. I think what happened is really going to help the guys we have coming back."
So, can the Wildcats repeat?
"You'll have to ask Ray Tanner. He has the lock on that," Lopez said, referring to the coach whose South Carolina team had its bid for three straight national titles end with Arizona's 4-1 victory in Game 2 of the College World Series finals Monday.
The undisputed leaders of Arizona's 2012 team were the juniors, guys who joined the program after the Wildcats failed to make the 2009 NCAA tournament.
As freshmen in 2010, they went three games and out in regionals. Last year, they lost to Texas A&M in the regional final.
This year the Wildcats won a Pac-12 co-championship and all 10 of their games in the NCAA tournament, sweeping South Carolina in the best-of-three finals.
Arizona never trailed in any of its five CWS games. Texas in 1949 (three games) and LSU in 1991 (four games) are the only other teams to make it through a CWS without playing from behind.
Overall, the Wildcats won their final 11 games and 18 of their last 20.
"I think it's no secret the juniors, they're the main contributors throughout the season," said freshman second baseman Trent Gilbert, who broke open Monday's game with a two-run single in the ninth inning.
Slick-fielding shortstop Alex Mejia established himself as one of the best in the nation and was drafted in the fourth round by the St. Louis Cardinals.
CWS Most Outstanding Player Robert Refsnyder, taken in the fifth round by the New York Yankees, batted .476 (10 for 21) with two homers, five RBIs and six runs scored in Omaha. He also threw out Adam Matthews when he tried to go from first to third on a single in the first game of the finals.