OMAHA, Neb. – Much has been made about Arizona’s Robert Refsnyder, both on and off the field.
On the diamond, the junior is one of the team’s best hitters – leading the club in home runs. Off it, he’s one of Arizona’s leaders whose story of growing up in Southern California as an adopted child from South Korea has made headlines all postseason.
So it should come as no surprise that Refsnyder made the two biggest plays of the first game of the CWS Championship Series against South Carolina on Sunday.
Refsnyder wasted no time, hitting a two-run home run with two outs in the first inning to the opposite field to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. And they never looked back.
That’s right, he hit it to rightfield, the opposite way. Something that isn’t done a whole lot at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
“How about an opposite field home run in this park?” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “When he touched the ball, I said that ball’s been hit hard but I expected it to be maybe off the warning track, one hop to the fence, but that was impressive. That’s why he’s one of the better players in the country. He’s able to do things like that.”
“I wanted to put a good swing on it,” Refsnyder said. “I knew if we got the team on the board right there, like Lopez said, it would kind of settle the team down so we could just go out and play good baseball. I was fortunate enough to run into it. Sometimes you close your eyes and swing really hard good things happen.”
It was the best thing to happen for a team going up against the two-time defending champions. Anytime a team can get an early lead it helps.
“When we can get ahead in the first inning against an opponent like that who had been there two years, this is the third … anytime you get ahead of a team to be honest you get more relief, you get settled in a lot faster than you would as opposed to being a tie game going into the ninth or chasing one or two as coach [Andy Lopez] said earlier,” Arizona shortstop Alex Mejia said. “I think Robert Refsnyder’s home run helped us and helped us get the victory tonight.”
The home run was the rightfielder’s second of the College World Series and his eighth of the season — good timing for a team that that doesn’t hit home runs against a team that doesn’t allow them. The blast was only the 23rd of the season for the Wildcats and it was the first allowed by South Carolina since June 2 – a stretch of 77.0 innings without an opponent hitting one.
While the longball hasn’t been part of the formula all season, the Wildcats improved to 14-3 when they do hit one.
Refsnyder also continued a streak which shows the prowess of the lineup he’s right in the middle of. The Laguna Hills, Calif. native reached base for the 38th game in a row, while collecting his 18th multi-RBI game in going 2-for-3 with two intentional walks.
This coming from a guy who is now hitting .471 in Omaha and has five RBI at the CWS – tied with Florida State’s Justin Gonzalez and teammate Bobby Brown.
But Refsnyder didn’t just beat South Carolina with his bat.
Leading 4-1 in the 7th inning with no outs and a runner on first, a Kyle Martin single to rightfield allowed Refsnyder to show off his other asset – his arm. He unleashed a bullet to third base to catch Adam Matthews trying to go first to third for the first out of the inning.
If he’s safe, who knows how the inning ends. But he wasn’t, and the Gamecocks didn’t score.
“[Matthews] was aggressive trying to make a play,” Tanner said. “I wasn’t sure he would throw the ball with the score at the time, I thought maybe he would throw it to second. He had to make a perfect throw to third, and he did.”
“I came through that ball real hard and I really wasn’t expecting Matthews to go,” Refsnyder said. “But I thought he kind of hesitated. So I decided to let it rip. If you throw the ball anywhere close to [Mejias-Brean], he’s got the hands of apes, so it was pretty easy, just get it close to Seth and he put a really good tag on it. It was a big momentum shift for us.”
Those kinds of plays have Arizona one win away from its first national championship since 1986. You can expect Refsnyder to do more of the same on Monday.