Friday, June 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.
From the Little League fields in Las Vegas to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., three Bishop Gorman grads are living their dream at the University of Arizona.
Juniors Stephen Manthei and Joey Rickard and sophomore Johnny Field begin their march toward a championship at 6 p.m. Friday against Florida State on ESPN2. Although, you could say their journey really began several years ago when they combined to help the Gaels win five consecutive state titles, or even before that when they were playing against each other around Las Vegas in club baseball.
Thinking back to all the work he’s put in, Field had a hard time believing it was real as he walked around Omaha on Thursday. Manthei, too, sounded like his feet had yet to hit the ground.
“This is the coolest experience of my life,” Manthei said.
The trio’s path to the Tucson campus started with the Wildcats’ interest in Rickard. When Arizona assistant Mark Wasikowski was at Gorman recruiting Rickard, he also saw potential in Field and Manthei.
Field and Manthei took an official trip to Arizona together, and Field made a verbal commitment with two full years left at Gorman. At that time, Field was still playing multiple sports, going on as a junior to win a state title in wrestling.
You can add that trophy to the group’s collective pile, which also includes an American Legion baseball national title they won together in 2008.
“Not to sound cocky, but we’re used to winning,” Field said. “Bringing that mentality into college definitely helps. You expect to win.”
That expectation hasn’t changed on the sport’s biggest stage.
“We’re very confident. We feel like we’re a lot better than (the other teams),” Manthei said.
This year, Field leads the team with a .383 batting average and .490 on-base percentage. Rickard, who two weeks ago was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth round of the MLB first-year player draft, is hitting .326 with a team-leading 18 stolen bases while Manthei has six victories, two saves and a 4.29 ERA as the co-closer out of the bullpen.
They never planned to all go to college together, but the same goal — a national title — led them to the same destination.
This season, the Wildcats were co-Pac-12 champions and then went on to win a regional and super regional on their home field to book a ticket to Omaha. It’s the school’s 16th College World Series appearance and its first since 2004. The Wildcats have won three national championships: 1976, 1980 and 1986.
That history was a big part of the players’ decisions, and looking back it seems perfect.
Former Gorman coach Chris Sheff won a College World Series in 1992 at Pepperdine. His coach? Andy Lopez, who is now in his 11th year at Arizona.
Lopez would love to win another one, and he’ll need at least one if not all of the Gaels on his roster to play well in order to make it happen.
The Wildcats started the year with a top-5 ranking but fell out of the top 10 during a midseason swoon that included losing two games at home to New Mexico State and a loss at Utah Valley. Those games hardly matter now, though, as Arizona has lost just two games in the last month, including a perfect 5-0 record in postseason play.
Rickard plays center field and hits leadoff with Field, the left fielder, batting second. In the regional round, Arizona won three games by a total score of 47-10. In the finale against Louisville, Rickard and Field combined to hit .600 with 10 RBIs and seven runs scored.
St. John’s proved more formidable in the super regional, but the Wildcats still advanced with 7-6 and 7-4 victories.
Now it’s Florida State in Omaha, the ultimate destination for any college player, especially three of them who only know how to win.
“We’re not happy just to be here,” Field said.