The Wildcats, picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12, pulled another upset, stunning the #6 Mississippi State Bulldogs by coming back from an eighth-inning 5-1 deficit. The win clinched their ticket to the College World Series, their first appearance since their title-winning 2012 campaign. They will seek their fourth title overall, in their 17th trip to Omaha.
Season of upsets: Wildcats never out of it
Arizona made a statement early in the season that they had potential. After a 4-3 start, the Wildcats hosted Cal State Fullerton, a squad that had made it to Omaha the year before. The Wildcats blanked the Titans 2-0, their first signature victory of the year. The rest of the season was filled with ups and downs for Arizona. They had some low moments, like when they were swept by Utah. However they also took two of three from a strong UCLA program and walloped their in-state rivals, the Arizona State Sun Devils, 8-0. They swept Oregon State, a team that was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament this year. Their solid season, although not awe-inducing, earned them a #2 seed in a NCAA regional, courtesy of their third-place finish in the Pac-12 and a 16-14 conference record.
The Wildcats beat Sam Houston State twice, sandwiched around a blowout loss suffered at the hands of UL Lafayette. The Wildcats came into the regional final having to beat Lafayette twice for the Super Regionals' berth. Few gave the Wildcats a chance, especially after they had lost badly just a day before. But Arizona surprised everyone with a spectacular day, tallying 6-3 and 3-1 victories, clinching a berth in the Super Regionals.
However, once again, the Wildcats were slotted as underdogs, matched up against the sixth ranked Bulldogs.
It didn't matter.
The Wildcats sent Bobby Daldec to the mound for the opener of the 3 game set. Daldec responded with 8 2/3 inning of shutout ball, pioneering the Wildcats to a 1-0 victory. This set up the Game 2 heroics for the Wildcats.
Stunning Comeback Sends Wildcats To Omaha
Despite having won four straight games against top-tier competition, the Wildcats still weren't considered to be favorites, even with their 1-0 series advantage.
"Their ace will be fatigued!" This was the claim of many Arizona doubters. Indeed, the Wildcats were featuring ace Nathan Bannister on the mound, who had pitched twice in the regional tournament, two days apart, throwing a total of 198 pitches in two appearances. But Arizona doesn't rely solely on their ace's arm. They have a pretty timely offense as well.
On Saturday, their timely offense came in handy, boosting Arizona to a stunning comeback victory. Down 5-1 in the eighth inning, the Wildcats scored four runs in the final two innings to knot the score at five runs apiece. They narrowed the deficit on a three-run shot from Ryan Aguilar, hitless in the series until that at bat. However, Arizona entered the ninth down by one against a team that was 40-0 when leading after eight innings. There was seemingly no way Arizona was going to win this one.
But Arizona doesn't care too much about what others say they can and cannot do.
The Wildcats pieced together a run in the ninth to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. The 11th inning brought back the magic for Arizona, who loaded the bases with two outs. Left-handed hitting Cesar Salazar yanked a single through the hole between first and second, setting off the celebration.
Does Arizona Have a Few More Tricks Up Their Sleeves?
The Wildcats head to Omaha, but will wait for the rest of the Super Regionals to be completed. They were the first team to clinch their berth, allowing them the advantage to scout their potential future opponents on Sunday and Monday. The Arizona Wildcats will scout the higher-seeded teams. They know they will likely be considered big underdogs in the tournament.
But, judging on how they've responded so far, Arizona has just as good a chance, if not better, than everybody else in the field, no matter what the 'experts' continue to say about these upstart Wildcats.