The 2012 NCAA College World Series finals series starts tonight. This is not normally a cause for a post on this particular website, but one of the teams involved is from this state, so there is probably some interest around these parts from various people.
The University of Arizona Wildcats head into the series looking for their first championship since 1986. Facing them is the two time defending champion University of South Carolina Gamecocks. The first game of the best-of-three series starts tonight at 5:00 PM Arizona time on ESPN2/ESPN3. Follow after the jump for a quick preview on how each team got to this point, as well as a quick rundown of the college game for anyone who may not be aware of the subtleties (and by that I mean bunting out the wazzu).
Arizona comes into the championship series coming off a program-transforming season in more ways than one. They moved from the on-campus Sancet Field to Hi-Corbett Field in midtown Tucson. As a former minor league and spring training stadium, Hi-Corbett offered better facilities and a chance to garner larger attendance numbers. Both of these things seemed to happen, especially the latter. Arizona's attendance ranked 26th nationally in the country, and was second in the Pac-12 to Arizona State. (Yay Arizona schools, go us.)
The Wildcats have gone 46-17 on the season, and were Pac-12 co-champs to UCLA. Their new facilities were certainly a factor in them hosting an NCAA regional for the first time since 1992. Once in the postseason, Arizona turned it on. They won their three regional games by scores of 15-3, 16-4, and 16-3. They won both of their Super Regional games against St. Johns 7-6 and 7-4, sending them to the College World Series for the first time since 2004.
Arizona continued their romp through the top half of the CWS bracket. They defeated Florida State 4-3 in their opener, then shutout UCLA 4-0, and then put away Florida State again 10-3 to make it to the finals. They are the only team to go through the entire tournament undefeated thus far.
Some players to watch for Arizona:
Alex Mejia, SS. The Pac-12 Player of the year, as well as the defensive player of the year. He was taken by the Cardinals in the fourth round of the draft. He hit at an impressive-even-for-college .367 clip for the year and started every game for Arizona.
Kurt Heyer, SP. The ace of the Arizona staff was also drafted by the Cardinals, in the sixth round. In the first game of the Super Regional against St. Johns, he gave up a five spot in the fourth inning, but coach Andy Lopez kept him in there and he got the very rare complete game 7-6 win. There may be a chance he is not seen in the finals, as he was held to a strict 130 pitch count in the second game against Florida State.
Robert Refsnyder, OF. He was drafted by the Yankees in the 5th round to play Second Base. This wouldn't be too noteworthy, except he's played right field during his collegiate career. A sort of reverse Justin Upton, I guess. He had a home run in the second game against Florida State.
South Carolina's preview will be a bit shorter, as I do not know as much about them (and I don't think I could do them justice) and I am actively rooting against them :P. However, they have won the previous two championships and are going for a three-peat, so they're doing something right. They also got through their Regional and Super Regional unscathed, and won their opening CWS game against Florida. However, they made it to the championship through the loser's bracket after suffering a defeat against Arkansas in their second game.
They clawed back, defeating Kent State and then Arkansas twice to make it to the finals.
A player to watch for South Carolina:
Evan Marzilli, OF. The D'Backs just drafted him in the 8th round.
As mentioned, the finals are a best-of-three series. The schedule is:
Tonight: 5:00 PM MST, ESPN2
Monday: 5:00 PM MST, ESPN
Tuesday (If necessary): 5:00 PM MST, ESPN
Some things to watch for in the college game:
1. Bats. The distinct "ping" sound is synonymous with the college game. Metal bats are used by the NCAA, and up until new regulations last year, were responsible for many a football-type score (Case in point, the 1998 Championshp game between USC and Arizona State that ended 21-14). New bat regulations before last season neutered offenses a bit.
2. Bunting. College coaches looooove their bunting. For a hit, to move a runner over, for kicks. A possible reason for this is that college infielders are not nearly as polished as their pro counterparts, so bunting for a hit becomes a more legitimate option
3. Spitting on Pro-Style Pitch Count Limits. Every year I think I read somewhere about some team's high pitching draft pick pitching somewhere around 150 pitches in a game, and the writer will pontificate: "I BET (insert team that drafted him here) DOESN'T LIKE THAT." College coaches do not give a damn. Starters will be used longer than they usually are in a pro game.
So there's your drive-by preview. Thanks to soco for suggesting that I should do this. Feel free to use this thread as a GDT for the game tonight, if you like. The Wildcat fans run a SBNation blog called Desert Swarm, which can be found here.