Arizona and UCLA went to the College World Series looking to claim the spotlight and win a national title. The national title is still a ways off, but the spotlight is locked in and it is on Konner Wade.
The College World Series started brilliantly for both of the Pac-12's representatives in Omaha. Arizona came away 4-3 winners over Florida St. in 12 innings and UCLA crushed Stony Brook, 9-1. That set up a match-up between the two in a crucial winner's bracket game, with the winner having to win just one of their next two to book a spot in the Championship Series, while the loser would have to win three straight.
The Wildcats and Bruins were two of the hottest teams in the country with both having gone a perfect 6-0 to start the postseason and UCLA having won 20 of their last 22. In addition to being two teams playing incredible baseball, the Arizona vs. UCLA match-up was a pseudo Pac-12 title game between the conference's regular season co-champions. It didn't take much to see the contest as one between two of the best around.
But when the game started it became clear that it was less of a game between two of the country's top teams and more a showcase for one pitcher. It took eight pitches for Wade to sit the Bruins down in the first inning and he threw just six pitches in the second. That was just a sign of what was to come for the Bruins in the rest of the game.
In fairness to UCLA., nobody was going to hit Wade with the way he was pitching on Sunday. The sophomore's right-hander was running and diving like it always does, but he also had the command of the pitch and mixed in a devastating slider. Wade was working both corners and made UCLA, one of the best hitting teams in the country, look foolish. No matter what the Bruins did offensively, defensively or on the mound was going to be good enough to best Wade's masterpiece.
Amazingly, Wade was supposed to be the weak link for Arizona earlier this season. At one point in the preseason, Arizona head coach Andy Lopez admitted thinking that he knew he had a great team, but had no idea what he was going to do with Wade.
Wade was a complete mess through the fall and while he got better by the spring, he was hardly good. He couldn't find the plate and command proved a problem for him all season. He led the Wildcats in walks and hit by pitches and when he faced UCLA earlier in the year, the Bruins tagged him for six runs in three innings.
As the season wound down, though, Wade figured it out. He got better and better, but he was never as good as he was against the Bruins. When the Wildcats strung together five straight hits in the fourth inning to push four runs across, the game was over.
Wade put the game on cruise control. He retired the first 14 batters he faced and by the time he was done, he had himself a complete game, five-hit shutout. Most impressively, the man who had no idea where the ball was going earlier this season did not walk a batter, registering the first complete game shutout without a walk at the College World Series since 1972.
Now Arizona sits just one win away from the Championship Series, while UCLA will have to beat Florida St. in an elimination game on Tuesday then take down the Wildcats on Thursday and Friday. And all of that is because of a certain right-hander who had no idea where the ball was going just a few months ago, but at least on one night in Omaha, was as good as can be.