No one really gave the Arizona Wildcats much of a chance heading into the 2012 College World Series. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise.
Arizona's offense was plenty good and featured quite a few big names, but many of the so-called experts felt a lot of the production was more a product of knowing how to hit in Hi-Corbett Field's unique playing parameters. How would the hitters adjust once they left the comforts of home?
There was no denying that UA had a bonafide ace atop their rotation with Kurt Heyer, but inconsistencies in the starting rotation and a very young bullpen left questions about the club. Would they be able to hold up under the pressures of college baseball's biggest stage?
Many around the country answered these questions with a resounding "no".
The Wildcats had a chance to clinch a Pac-12 championship in their final season of the year with in-state rival Arizona St., which they did by winning two out of three games. The team was thrilled to achieve a conference title, but they simply wanted more.
They refused to settle for less than that. And that's when Arizona embarked on one of the most impressive runs in College World Series history.
In what was believed to be a very difficult field of New Mexico St., Louisville, and a red-hot Missouri team for Regionals, Arizona breezed through three games by scoring upwards of 15 runs in each contest. The Wildcats were not fazed by any of the three opponents, seemingly hanging crooked numbers on the scoreboard at will.
Arizona then met with St. John's in the Super Regionals portion of the tournament, winning both games in dramatic fashion. The first game was a 10-inning thriller that saw UA win 7-6. The second was decided by a score of 7-4. While they were a bit more dramatizing than hoped for, the 'Cats grew up a lot in these games.
For as many talented players on the roster as their were, Arizona was going to need to become a true team if they hoped to survive the riggers of Omaha and the College World Series.
Call it a cliché, call it an over-used anecdote that resembled a Hollywood film. It was true.
In perfect form, the 'Cats began playing the unselfish type of baseball that is needed to win a title. Power hitters in the middle of the order -- guys who usually look to clobber the ball over the fence -- began executing sacrifice bunts to move runners into scoring position.
Despite going deep into games all season long, Arizona's dynamic duo of Heyer and Konner Wade pitched with no regard for the health of their arms. The two would toss more than 120 pitches on any given night throughout the tournament, saving a bullpen that manager Andy Lopez admittedly did not have a ton of confidence in.
These two starters led UA to victories over Florida State and UCLA, propelling the club to a showdown with the South Carolina Gamecocks. USC had won the previous two championships at the College World Series, and they appeared to be on yet another magical run this time around.
Following yet another masterful performance in game one of the series by Wade, Arizona turned to No. 3 starter James Farris under the bright lights. The young righty responded by tossing seven innings of one-run ball.
Farris had not pitched in a live game situation in nearly four weeks. It would have been easy for the sophomore to stay complacent as he sat on the bench for nearly a month, but Farris kept himself fresh and ready to go through bullpen sessions and individual workouts.
He ended up throwing the game of his life, leading his team to a championship.
You can't write something that good.
This club probably didn't have the sheer talent that deserved a championship, but they worked harder than anyone else. And when the opposition made a mistake, the Wildcats pounded on it.
Arizona ended their run with an 11-game winning streak, which was part of an improbable stretch of winning 18 of their final 20. UA never once trailed in the College World Series, becoming just the third team in history to do so. They allowed no more than three runs in any game played in Omaha.
Those are video game numbers, folks. And they were a reality for the Wildcats this past month.
The players didn't just win these games; they dominated them, from start to finish. And when the odds were stacked against the club throughout the year, they just kept battling back.
That's the sign of a great team. That's now the sign of the 2012 College World Series champions.