Last night, the Arizona Wildcats won the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, putting an end to the hopes for a third straight national title for South Carolina. It's the fourth national championship in school history for the U of A, their first since 1986, and caps off a magical run that saw the Wildcats win 11 games in a row to close out their season.
A former powerhouse program, Arizona had fallen on hard times for better than a decade before hiring coach Andy Lopez, who had previously won a CWS title at Pepperdine. That was eleven years ago, and at the time there was much optimism he would return the program to the spotlight in relatively short order. It took a little longer than expected -- and a near-miss in 2008 -- but the Wildcats are back at the top of the mountain. Think Alabama football ten years ago, compared to today. That kind of thing. Historic powers in their respective sports, long history of winning, extended dry period, and now a return to prominence with a national championship. It's a really nice story.
It also has some important implications here in St. Louis, beyond the ranks of those who might care about college baseball specifically.
For me personally, I was rooting hard for Arizona all along; I have a very close friend who just happens to have ties to the university (Hi, Lindsay!), and so I'm thrilled to see them pull out the series win. However, I will admit I was kind of hoping they would lose last night and be forced into a decisive third game. The reason? If a third game was required, Cardinal draft pick Kurt Heyer (who I covered just the other day), was slated to start the game, and I would have dearly loved another chance to see him on national television. Even with the increased ease of seeing virtually any team play, thanks to regional sports networks and things like ESPNU, the chance to see a draft pick on the big stage, in a deciding game of the College World Series, on national television, is one I'm a bit miffed to have not had materialize.
Which brings us to the other reason this particular outcome matters to us here in the 'Lou: now that Arizona has finished its season, there are two more draft picks the Cardinals can officially work on signing. Shortstop Alejandro Mejia and Heyer were both selected by the Cards off the Wildcats, and both are now free to put pen to paper and start their professional careers.
I can't imagine either player should take long to sign; they should both be underslot deals (though, as I will talk about elsewhere, the deal James Ramsey has reportedly gotten throws pretty much everything into doubt), and shouldn't have too much in the way of sticking points. As disappointed as I was to miss out on seeing Heyer take the mound again, I'm still very excited to see his name in professional box scores as he starts his minor league career.
And I'm thrilled to see Arizona win this. Congratulations to the Wildcats baseball program, the students and alumni of the university, and anyone else who may have had a hand in bringing a championship to Tucson. It's been a long time coming.