But it was a trio of young guns that helped the Wildcats post a 4-3, 12-inning victory over Florida State in their Omaha opener Friday night at TD Ameritrade Park.
Freshman relievers Tyler Crawford and Mathew Troupe pitched 4-1/3 shutout innings, and sophomore Johnny Field drove in the winning run with a double to move Arizona (44-17) into a Bracket One winners game Sunday against fellow Pac-12 member UCLA.
The Bruins, who flew to Omaha on the same charter flight as Arizona, won two of three games from the Wildcats during the regular season.
“They got us earlier in the year,” Arizona center fielder Joey Rickard said. “It doesn't surprise us that we're playing them here because they're a good team. We need to go out, slow the game down and play our baseball.”
Rickard scored the winning run when he and Field hit back-to-back doubles off Florida State relief ace Robert Benincasa (4-2). He pitched the final four innings and gave the Seminoles a chance when he got out of the 12th with a strikeout and a groundout that stranded two Wildcats.
Florida State (48-16) got the potential tying run to third base with two outs in its half of the 12th before Troupe struck out Devon Travis at 12:17 a.m. Saturday, bringing an end to a game that lasted four hours and seven minutes and drew a crowd of 22,391 fans.
In the postgame huddle, Florida State coach Mike Martin reminded his team that South Carolina lost its opening game at the 2010 CWS, then came back to win the national championship.
“He was just saying, ‘Why couldn't it be us?' ” said Florida State third baseman Sherman Johnson, who gave the Seminoles their first run with a third-inning homer. “I think it's the mindset everybody's going to take going forward.
“It's tough, but we'll forget about it. We'll be ready to go Sunday.”
Florida State will face an elimination game at 4 p.m. Sunday against Stony Brook, the pre-tournament darling that lost 9-1 to UCLA.
The Seminoles, down 3-1 after five innings, tied the game in the sixth on John Holland's two-run, two-out double off Arizona starter Kurt Heyer. Heyer, a senior right-hander, pitched into the eighth inning for the 12th straight game before giving way to his younger teammates.
Crawford got a key strikeout in the 10th after Travis had opened with a single. Crawford's first two pitches to first-round draft pick James Ramsey were balls, but he came back with three straight strikes to get the Seminoles' second-leading hitter.
Troupe replaced Crawford at that point and got out of the inning, as Travis was caught stealing and Jayce Boyd hit a grounder back to the mound.
Arizona coach Andy Lopez called Crawford's strikeout a key to the win.
“There's always someone on a club you say ‘I don't want that guy to beat us,' ” Lopez said, referring to Ramsey. “He's definitely that guy. They've got a good team, don't get me wrong. But he kind of carries himself a little different than most.”
Crawford and Troupe were tough in the clutch but so was Benincasa, the Seminoles' relief ace with 15 saves. He had not pitched more than 2-1/3 innings this season, but he retired the first 10 Arizona hitters he faced after entering the game following Riley Moore's single to lead off the ninth.
Rickard ended the dry spell when he doubled to left-center with one out in the 12th. Field, who had not hit a ball out of the infield in his first five plate appearances, then delivered his game-winning hit.
“Tonight I wasn't really seeing the ball too well and I had really bad at-bats early in the game,” Field said. “I was trying to do too much, chasing pitches that weren't in my zone.
“The last at-bat I made adjustments, went back to the drawing board and tried to look for a pitch to hit. He threw one over the plate and I was lucky enough to get my barrel on it.”
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