Arizona won the College World Series, but they couldn't have done it without manager Andy Lopez.
During the entire tournament Lopez pulled strings like a master puppeteer, but it was never as clear as it was during the final series against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Wildcats seemed at a disadvantage to the two-time defending champions, especially in terms of experience. However, Lopez had his guys playing like veterans throughout the entire tournament.
While the play of Robert Refsnyder, James Farris and Konner Wade cannot be overstated, I give much of the credit to a poised manager who knew how to handle his guys.
In Game 1 Lopez threw out Wade, trusting him to bring the Wildcats a victory. The Gamecocks hadn't dropped a game against UCLA or Florida in the best-of-three finals in the past two years, but Lopez had the confidence that Wade could secure a victory.
And he did.
Wade pitched a complete game, allowing just one run, and the Wildcats won 5-1. Lopez pulled strings in the first game to hand USC its first loss in the finals in years.
However, Lopez knew that his team couldn't take its foot off the gas. He knew that he needed to keep his guys focused on the next game, and he knew that no celebration was needed after Game 1.
He kept his guys focused, and his attitude was epitomized in this quote from ESPN:
"Tonight's over. It's done with. You've got to come out tomorrow and play good baseball....We understand where we're at. These guys understand who they're playing. They understand it's not a tournament somewhere in South Dakota."
In Game 2 Lopez made another surprising decision at pitcher. While many people would have tried to silence the Gamecocks right away and send out ace Kurt Heyer to combat South Carolina's Michael Roth, Lopez thought differently.
Obviously he wanted to win Game 2, but he had the confidence to pitch sophomore James Farris instead of Heyer.
Farris had an ERA of almost five during the season, and he only made one start in the postseason, coming on June 5. It seemed like a decision that would cost the Wildcats a crucial Game 2, but Farris had the game of his life, holding the Gamecocks to just one run, and setting the Wildcats up for a huge victory.
While the players had a huge deal to do with Arizona's success, much credit has to be given to Lopez. He kept his guys calm and poised, and he knew exactly what to do with his team.
Arizona had a great team, but without the glue of Lopez to hold them together, we may have seen a different champion.