Arizona Baseball Heads to Omaha for College World Series
The University of Arizona baseball team is making its 18th appearance in the College World Series.
A good baseball team doesn't need a memorable gimmick in order to win playoff games, but it doesn't hurt if it has one.
What sets the 2021 University of Arizona baseball team apart? They have the juice.
The Wildcats have ridden the enthusiasm of the thousands of fans packing Hi Corbett Stadium – nicknamed HiC, and then christened "The Juice Box" by star centerfielder Donta' Williams – to the program's 18th appearance in the College World Series after trouncing the University of Mississippi 16-3 in Sunday's deciding game in the Tucson Super Regional.
"This was everything that you dream about. Seeing our players as happy and as proud as they are – that's why I do this. What a day," said head coach Jay Johnson, this year's Pac-12 Coach of the Year, during Sunday's postgame press conference.
With last year's playoff run interrupted by the pandemic, the Wildcats have made up for lost time in a major way, reeling off 45 wins in 61 games and the Pac-12 regular season championship. The Wildcats claimed the No. 5 overall ranking when the regional brackets were announced at the end of May and backed that up by going undefeated in the Tucson regional, beating Grand Canyon University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, twice to set up the Super Regional showdown with No. 12 Ole Miss.
With the preliminary rounds behind them, the Wildcats look forward to a matchup with the 2019 College World Series champions from Vanderbilt University and their star pitchers, Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. The game will air Saturday at 4 p.m. Arizona time on ESPN.
How did the Wildcats get here? These three numbers help tell the story.
701: That's how many hits the Arizona baseball team has compiled this season, making the Wildcats No. 1 in the nation. The squad's overall batting average of .327 ranks fourth and the .426 on-base average ranks third.
Leadoff hitter Williams is one of the nation's elite table-setters, reaching base nearly half the time (.488 on-base average) and scoring 76 runs (third in the nation). He's often driven home by freshman sluggers Jacob Berry (17 home runs) and Daniel Susac (12 homers). These are two of the nation's five-best freshman baseball players, according to Collegiate Baseball. Sophomore outfielder Branden Boissiere leads the team with a .374 batting average.
Arizona's greatest strength is that it has no easy outs. All eight hitters who have reached the minimum number of qualifying plate appearances have a batting average over .300.
7: That's the number of pitchers who have taken the mound as starters for the Wildcats this season.
Unlike Vanderbilt, the Wildcats don't have the traditional ace with the sub-2.00 earned run average and high strikeout numbers. Instead, the Wildcats rely on a pitching-by-committee approach and a strong all-around defense, led by Williams' acrobatics in centerfield and Susac's reliability behind the plate.
Freshman Dawson Netz took the mound for only his second career start on Sunday, and after taking care of the first couple innings handed the ball over to another freshman, TJ Nichols, who delivered five and one-third stellar innings.
This has been the model that has propelled the Wildcats through the playoffs – everyone pitching in when there is an opportunity.
2012: That's the year the University of Arizona made Hi Corbett Field the squad's permanent residence. It was a transformational change for the program, as Hi Corbett could hold nearly 3,000 additional fans and allow the Wildcats to compete at a truly elite level in terms of the program's facilities.
The Juice Box welcomed more than 15,000 Wildcat fans during the weekend's series against Ole Miss, with 5,139 fans turning out for Sunday's series-clinching win.
Also, 2012 was the last time the Wildcats won the College World Series.
Arizona begins its quest for the program's fifth national championship when they take on the Commodores on Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN.
WhatArizona versus Vanderbilt
WhereCollege World Series in Omaha, Nebraska
WhenSaturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
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