OMAHA, Neb. — Konner Wade threw his third straight complete game, Robert Refsnyder homered for the second game in a row and Arizona beat two-time defending national champion South Carolina 5-1 in the opener of the College World Series finals Sunday night.
Wade (11-3) limited the Gamecocks to six hits in a steady outing to help the Wildcats (47-17) move within a win of their first national championship since 1986 and fourth overall.
“Tonight’s over. It’s done with. You’ve got to come out tomorrow and play good baseball,” Arizona coach Andy Lopez said. “We understand where we’re at. These guys understand who they’re playing. They understand it’s not a tournament somewhere in South Dakota.”
The Gamecocks (49-19) swept UCLA and Florida in the best-of-three finals the past two years but now need to beat Arizona twice to become the first team since Southern California in the early 1970s to win three championships in a row.
“Tomorrow’s a new day,” South Carolina center fielder Evan Marzilli said. “So we have to come out tomorrow and pretend like nothing ever happened and go out and hopefully get a win.”
Refsnyder, batting .444 (8 of 18) in the CWS, went 2 for 3 and was intentionally walked twice. He hit a two-run homer off Forrest Koumas (2-3) in the first to give Arizona the lead, and scored in the fifth on Bobby Brown’s single to make it a four-run game.
His home run to right on Sunday was the first allowed by South Carolina in 77 innings.
“How about an opposite-field home run in this park,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “When he touched the ball, 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.”
Refsnyder, who has eight homers this season, also went deep Thursday in the Wildcats’ bracket-winning victory over Florida State.
“Any time you can get a little bit of a lead for Konner — I can’t remember the last time we got a lead for Konner where he didn’t give it up,” Refsnyder said. “It helped Konner’s confidence to get him a few runs and helped the team. South Carolina is two-time defending champ, and any time you can get ahead of a team like that, it helps because you’re going to need every run against them.”
Refsnyder also showed off his arm in right field, throwing out Adam Matthews when he tried to go from first to third on Kyle Martin’s single in the seventh.
Wade has won four straight starts in the postseason. He worked eight innings against Louisville in regionals, nine in the super regional-winning victory over St. John’s, and threw a complete-game shutout against UCLA last Sunday.
Wade is 4-0 with a 1.29 in four NCAA tournament starts (35 innings, five earned runs). He struck out three. His walk to Walker in the sixth was the first he issued in 31 innings.
The Arizona bullpen was inactive until Christian Walker singled leading off the ninth. Wade got a fly out, groundout and foul out to end the game.
“We just couldn’t get in a situation to do anything offensively,” Tanner said. “He kept making big pitches when he needed to. And they played solid defense out there. And we tried to make a run at them.”
Arizona, which hasn’t trailed in the CWS, scored unearned runs in the third and fifth innings.
No. 9 batter Trent Gilbert reached to start the third when shortstop Joey Pankake flubbed his grounder. Gilbert moved to third on Joey Rickard’s hit and scored on Alex Mejia’s single to left.
Seth Mejias-Brean drove in a run in the fifth after Johnny Field reached third on a wild pitch and error.
South Carolina cut it to 4-1 in sixth on Evan Marzilli’s RBI single, the first run allowed by Wade in 15 innings.
The loss ended the Gamecocks’ streak of yielding two runs or less in four straight CWS games.
South Carolina already has fought off elimination twice in the CWS. The Gamecocks had their 22-game NCAA tournament win streak end last Monday with a 2-1 loss to Arkansas. They came back to beat Kent State and Arkansas twice to reach the finals.
“It’s a best-of-three game series for a reason,” catcher Grayson Greiner said. “We have to come out and fight tomorrow. We were in the same situation a few days ago. They’ve got to beat us twice to win the championship, and the best team will have to win two games.”