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OMAHA, Neb. -- It feels a little like 1992 for Arizona coach Andy Lopez.
That year, Lopez was the head coach of the Pepperdine Waves. It so happens the Waves started the College World Series in impressive fashion on the way to winning the program's first and only national title.
The Wildcats still have a long way to go to accomplish what the Waves did back then, but the similarities, at least from Lopez's perspective, sure are there after Arizona moved into the driver's seat in its side of the bracket with a 4-0 win over UCLA.
"It feels pretty similar [to 1992] in the sense that we're getting the big pitches and big hits when we need them," Lopez said. "The definition of winning is playing good baseball, and they understand what that means to them. They've done a pretty good job of that for about the last six weeks."
With a trip to the driver's seat at stake, the Wildcats went with the hot hand in right-handed pitcher Konner Wade. Though he had thrown well as of late, there was a sense of confidence in the UCLA dugout before the game.
It was easy to see why. Wade, before Sunday, hadn't had a good history with the Bruins. Earlier this season in Tucson, Ariz., he put together easily his worst start of the season against the Bruins, allowing six runs on 10 hits in just three innings of work in a loss. He also recorded just one strikeout in the performance.
But at least lately, things have been much different for Wade. He has been outstanding in the postseason. In two starts against Louisville and St. John's before the CWS, he worked 17 innings, and allowed just four earned runs on 16 hits. He also displayed better command with seven strikeouts and just two walks during that span.
To say the least, Wade was looking for a little redemption against the Bruins, and he got just what he wanted and put together a performance the Wildcats needed.
"You really have to give Konner Wade a ton of credit. We had our way with him a month or so ago. He really pitched well tonight with no walks," UCLA coach John Savage said. "I really have to tip my hat to him, as he pitched as well as anyone I've seen all year. You just really have to give him credit."
Unlike his previous start against the Bruins, Wade showed impeccable command and did a terrific job of mixing up and commanding his pitches, particularly working steadily with a fastball and slider.
Wade cruised for much of the night with very few potential hiccups. He had 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, third and fourth frames, before allowing his first hit of the contest from shortstop Pat Valaika in the fifth inning.
After losing his no-hitter in the fifth, Wade proceeded to give up back-to-back singles to Cody Regis and Kevin Kramer with two outs, and the Bruins appeared to be ready to strike down 4-0. Wade, though, worked out of the jam by getting Bruins second baseman Kevin Williams to fly out to left field.
"I think we got him in trouble maybe twice, and that was with two outs," Valaika said. "It's tough to get a lot of things going with two outs."
Though Wade's performance headlined the night for good reason, the Bruins also received a solid start from right-hander Nick Vander Tuig. Outside of a four-run fourth inning that included a two-RBI single from Seth Mejias-Brean and two-RBI double from Bobby Brown, Vander Tuig was outstanding as well.
He finished the night striking out eight and allowing those four runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings of work. He threw 98 pitches, 66 of them for strikes.
"I thought Nick threw the ball very well. They got five hits in a row there and that was the difference," Savage said. "Nick was very sharp. I thought both sides were pretty quiet for most of the evening. You just have to give Vander Tuig and Wade a ton of credit."
Entering the College World Series, everyone felt the Wildcats were in good shape with ace right-handed pitcher Kurt Heyer leading the way. But there were at least some concerns about whether fellow starters Konner Wade and James Farris would be able to put together the same type of performances they had in NCAA Regional and Super Regional action, here on this stage.
Wade, at least, answered one part of that question Sunday night.
Mainly because of him, the Wildcats are one step closer to winning Andy Lopez's first national title since '92, and the program's first since 1986.
GAME IN REVIEW
PLAYER OF THE GAME: RHP Konner Wade, Arizona -- Wade didn’t pitch particularly well the last time he faced UCLA. Call Sunday’s performance sweet redemption for the sizzling right-handed pitcher. Wade struck out four batters and allowed just five hits in a complete game performance, his fifth of the season.
UNSUNG HERO: 3B Seth Mejias-Brean, Arizona -- With the game tied 0-0 going to the fourth inning, the Wildcats led off the inning with leadoff hitter Joey Rickard striking out. The Wildcats then loaded the bases on three-straight singles before Mejias-Brean hit a two-RBI single to make it 2-0 Arizona, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Mejias-Brean finished the night 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs.
GAME WAS OVER WHEN: Though Arizona’s four-run fourth inning certainly played a big part in the game essentially being over, the game was no longer in doubt in the fifth inning. After the Wildcats made such a huge push, the Bruins loaded the bases with two outs. Wade, though, got out of the jam by inducing a fly out to left field. The Wildcats never looked back.
WHAT'S NEXT: With the tough loss to Arizona, the Bruins now must turn around and face a tough Florida State club in an elimination game on Tuesday. The Bruins will send right-handed pitcher Zack Weiss (4.04, 69 IP) to the mound in the elimination game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are in outstanding shape, not playing until Thursday. In that contest, it’s expected coach Andy Lopez will throw James Farris (4.18, 99 IP).