Arizona’s first CWS title since 1986 rewards coach’s devotion

OMAHA, Neb. – Coach Andy Lopez finally won his national championship with Arizona.

The Wildcats ended South Carolina’s two-year run of dominance at the College World Series with a 4-1 victory on Monday, rewarding Lopez for persevering through the hard times that came with rebuilding the downtrodden program he took over 11 years ago.

Lopez thought he had a title-caliber team in 2008, but the Wildcats lost a crushing three-game super regional at Miami that he laments to this day.

He was devastated again in 2009 when his team failed to make the national tournament.

A strong recruiting class two years ago formed the core of the team that won Arizona’s first national title since 1986, and fourth overall.

“They’ve just been a joy,” said Lopez, flanked by his key players. “I mean, how many times have I told you I love suiting up with you guys? … I like suiting up with young guys that go to class, go to study hall, hustle on the field, clean up the clubhouse on their own.”

Arizona used strong pitching on consecutive nights to sweep the finals. James Farris, who hadn’t pitched since June 3, and Mathew Troupe combined to limit the Gamecocks to three hits a night after Konner Wade threw his third straight complete game in a 5-1 win.

Brandon Dixon’s tiebreaking double started a three-run ninth for Arizona (48-17) on Monday.

Dixon, who entered as a defensive replacement in the sixth, sent a grounder down the third-base line past LB Dantzler’s outstretched glove for his first hit of the CWS.

Tyler Webb relieved Matt Price (5-5), and Trent Gilbert drove in his second and third runs of the game with a two-out single.

Arizona’s Joey Rickard went 0-for-5 and Johnny Field 0-for-4. Both are Bishop Gorman graduates.

Lopez, who won a national championship at Pepperdine in 1992, became the second coach to win a Division I baseball title at two schools. Augie Garrido was the first, winning three at Cal State Fullerton and two at Texas.

“Coach Lopez means the world to us, and we’re so happy we brought joy back to his life in coaching,” CWS Most Outstanding Player Robert Refsnyder said.

South Carolina (49-20) had been trying to become the first team since the Southern California dynasty of the early 1970s to win three national titles in a row.

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