OMAHA, Neb. - The Arizona Wildcats boarded a charter plane for Tucson on Tuesday morning, their NCAA baseball championship trophy buckled into a front-row seat between two pillows.
The UA's young College World Series heroes left Omaha with a real chance of returning.
Lost in Monday's 4-1, national championship win over South Carolina was the play of many of the Wildcats' undervalued - and heretofore underappreciated - underclassmen.
Freshman second baseman Trent Gilbert drove in three of UA's four runs. The winning pitcher, Mat Troupe, and all-tournament catcher Riley Moore are freshmen.
And a pair of sophomores - starting pitcher James Farris and first baseman Brandon Dixon - played beyond their years as the Wildcats won their first national championship since 1986.
"I think it's no secret that the juniors, they're the main contributors throughout the season," said Gilbert, who finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs. "But me and some of the other younger guys feel just as confident in those situations.
"So when we get a chance like that, I like our chances as well."
Gilbert gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead with an RBI groundout in the third inning. After South Carolina rallied to tie the game in the seventh, Arizona coach Andy Lopez turned to his youngest players to get the job done.
Batting with one out in the top of the ninth, Dixon - a defensive replacement who entered in the sixth - delivered an RBI double into the left field corner. After Moore struck out, Gilbert - the team's No. 9 hole hitter - ripped a two-run single to right field.
Staked to a three-run lead, reliever Troupe provided the first real stress of the UA's five-win run through the College World Series. The right-hander loaded the bases with one out, then induced a line drive and flyout to end the game.
The victory capped a dominant run through the postseason. The Wildcats went a perfect 10-0 in the regionals, super regionals and College World Series. In five Omaha victories, the UA never trailed.
Lopez publicly praised the team's five juniors - outfielders Robert Refsnyder and Joey Rickard shortstop Alex Mejia, third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean and ace Kurt Heyer - for their consistency throughout the Wildcats' 65-game season. The five, drafted earlier this month, likely will turn pro.
The Arizona coach was harder on his freshmen.
Gilbert's defense at second was constantly scrutinized, and Moore surrendered more passed balls than any in recent UA history. Dixon opened the season in the starting lineup before he was benched for freshman Joe Maggi.
The veteran core, and the high expectations, allowed the underclassmen to develop at their own pace.
Fortunately, they all arrived at the same time.
Moore hit .389 during the postseason, trailing team leader Johnny Field (.390) by just one point.
Gilbert finished tied for fourth on the club with four postseason RBIs, and Dixon scored eight runs despite playing roughly four innings per game.
Sophomore Konner Wade threw back-to-back complete games in the College World Series. And Farris was masterful when called upon, winning both of his postseason starts.
Though internal and external pressure built with each win, the Wildcats' youngest players stayed calm.
"To see the program in the hands of young guys like this, it's very promising for Arizona," Refsnyder said.
Moore, the Wildcats' catcher, was more succinct.
"What a future," he said.