‘Everything I dreamed it would be’: Arizona optimistic despite early exit from College World Series

Arizona coach Jay Johnson doesn’t want one loss to define the 2021 season.

OMAHA, Neb. – Jay Johnson is determined to not let one game define the University of Arizona baseball program.

“Twenty-four hours or 36 hours of disappointment here is not going to change the accomplishments of our team,” the Wildcats coach said. “I’m proud of them and I really believed we could be here. I believed we could be a championship team.”

Monday night just wasn’t the night for the Wildcats.

Arizona fell to Stanford to suffer its second loss of the 2021 NCAA College World Series.

“It’s one thing to think you have that. Talk about doing it. Say you’re going to do it and actually go out and do it,” Johnson said. “In terms of the Pac-12, the two most physical teams made it here.”

Arizona was the first team eliminated from the tournament, giving up 14 runs to Stanford.

Despite the game not going their way, Johnson was still proud of his team’s historical season. Arizona was the outright Pac-12 champion for the first time since 1992.

The Wildcats had a memorable run with 45 wins and only two conference series losses. They were also the only team in the West Region that had three members included in the All-Region First Team. Two of those, freshman catcher Daniel Susac and freshman designated hitter Jacob Berry, were also First Team Freshman All-Americans.

“Great baseball team made up of great competitors and great character,” Johnson said. “They’re collectively pretty special.”

Only two members of the 2020 Arizona baseball team decided to not come back and play in 2021 after the season was canceled last year due to the pandemic. Johnson said that he is proud of the way his players handled adversity and that “itss a tough group to say goodbye to.”

Arizona will say goodbye to seniors Vince Vannelle and Preston Price. Also, 22 players on the Arizona roster are draft eligible.

With this year’s MLB draft lasting only 20 rounds, Arizona believes it will keep a good amount of players for next year’s team although highly coveted junior outfielder Donta Williams probably won’t be one of them. Johnson said that Williams represents everything it means to be a Wildcats player.

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“They don’t make them like that very often. The only thing he’s better at than playing baseball is that he’s a first-class and quality human being,” Johnson said. “If there’s a recruit, a young player at home that wants to play baseball at Arizona, look at number 23.”

Although he has a bright future ahead of him, Williams said that his focus and the team’s focus has always been on being in the moment.

“When it was time to play, we just competed. That’s why we came out here,” Williams said. “It was everything I dreamed it would be. I’m just happy I got to be here with this group of guys.”

With the possibility of the team continuing without Williams next year, he feels the team still has strong leadership that will take them back to the College World Series.

“There’s 30 other guys in that locker room that are bleeding right now,” Williams said. “Every one of them are leaders in my eyes. There are going to be a ton of guys that will step up to the plate to carry the team.”

Although early elimination was not what the Arizona baseball coaches, players and fans expected, they can still reflect on a standout season and the memories made.

“I love every one of these guys,” Johnson said. “They’ve poured everything they have into our program.”

Arizona will enter the offseason and be back again to compete for another NCAA national championship next spring. The MLB draft is scheduled for July 11-13.

Erin Slinde erin slin-dee
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Erin Slinde expects to graduate in August 2021 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Slinde has done color commentary and play-by-play for the ASU volleyball team on the PAC 12 Plus Network.