CWS notes: Zona going the distance
'We don’t want to give up the ball' says staff ace Kurt Heyer
OMAHA, Neb. -- The Arizona pitching staff has combined to throw 14 complete games this season – the most of any team in the 2012 CWS, and the most by a Wildcat team since 1989.
Three starters have notched complete games in the NCAA postseason, and the Arizona bullpen has been needed for just 1.2 innings during the stretch. Staff ace Kurt Heyer leads the squad with seven on the year, and 17 career complete games.
Arizona’s “going the distance” mentality was born out necessity, and is not necessarily how head coach Andy Lopez has handled pitching staffs of the past.
“In 2008, we had arguably the best bullpen in the nation, and I don’t know if we had a complete game that year,” Lopez said. “In the sixth inning, I’d look at my starter and say, ‘Thanks so much.’ ”
This season, however, Lopez did not have that luxury.
“Our bullpen has been very suspect this season,” Lopez said. “I would say 70 percent of our losses have been bullpen issues, so there came a point in the season when I knew that I was running out bullpen arms and it was not working. I grabbed our starters, and told them I wouldn’t abuse the pitch count and basically, if you manage your pitch count, I’m going to go with you until the ultimate end. They’ve run with it.”
“We don’t want to give up the ball when coach hands it to us,” Heyer said. “We want to finish it ourselves.”
Go-To-Guy: Freshman pitcher David Berg may not show up in the starting lineup, but by the end of the game, there’s a pretty good chance his name will pop up in the box score.
A native of Covina, Calif., Berg has appeared in 47 of the Bruins’ 61 games on the year, posting a 5-3 record with a Pac-12 leading 1.58 ERA. His 47 appearances are tied for second on the NCAA’s single-season all-time appearances list, and he was one of two freshmen named to the Pac-12 All-Conference team.
With his submarine-style delivery, the right-hander has thrown in 21 of the Bruins’ past 22 games, including four times in postseason play. In 8.0 innings of action, he has not given up run and surrendered just four hits while striking out 10 batters.
“I feel like an everyday player in the last month or so,” Berg said.
“It is a remarkable story,” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “The guy has unbelievable courage. He wants the baseball. He’s Mr. Durability.”
Not bad for a kid who was barely recruited in high school, and signed with UCLA in late July as a walk-on.
The UCLA coaching staff noticed Berg during California’s high school playoffs. “I took advantage of my opportunities in those playoff games, and had probably one of the best games of my career and they saw me and wanted to give me a shot,” Berg said.
“It’s a great story for every high school player out there that feels unwanted and is not getting recruited by anybody and has nowhere to go,” Savage said. “Keep on doing things the right way academically and on the field, and eventually somebody is going to take notice. In this case, I think we were the lucky ones. We would never be here without him.”
Dreaming Big: When Florida State freshman John Nogowski was just a preschooler, he was hanging out at Dick Howser Stadium, tagging along with his father, John Nogowski Sr., who was the sports columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat at the time.
“John-John,” as his dad called him, attended countless FSU games in his youth, watching and listening to his father’s commentary, and learning about baseball.
“I remember going on the field and talking to Matt Diaz and meeting J.D. Drew,” Nogowski said. “I looked up to those guys – they were my big league ballplayers. Now, seeing little kids come up to me or ask me for autographs is really special. To be in this position is very humbling.”
Nogowski has been to Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium as a spectator, and followed the Seminoles on television during their CWS trips. But on Thursday, when he and the Seminoles took batting practice at TD Ameritrade Park, the experience really started to since in.
“My dad told me to take everything in because even though I’m a freshman, you never know if you’ll get back,” Nogowski said.
Nogowski has started several games in the designated hitter spot this season, and pinch hit a couple of times during the NCAA postseason. He is batting .246 with 23 RBI on the year.