Moments before Trent Gilbert delivered the biggest hit of the Arizona Wildcats' season, he and coach Andy Lopez met in front of the dugout during a rare offensive timeout.
Arizona's coach put his hand on the freshman's back and discussed the scenario. With the bases loaded and one out in the 10th inning, Gilbert was expected to either loft the ball into the outfield or take a walk. Better to take a strikeout, Lopez said, than risk hitting into a double play.
As they split, Lopez smiled to himself.
"When you don't feel them shaking," he said, "that's a good sign."
Gilbert rewarded his coach's faith moments later, lofting a two-strike fastball into right field for an RBI single and capping one of the most unlikely comebacks in recent UA history. The Wildcats scored twice in the 10th inning after allowing one run in the top half, and defeated St. John's 7-6 Friday in the super regional opener at Hi Corbett Field.
Arizona trailed by five runs against a St. John's team that finished with 18 hits. With a win today or Sunday, the Wildcats (42-17) would earn a spot in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Credit four unlikely heroes.
The bottom of Arizona's batting order - Bobby Brown, Joe Maggi, Maggi's defensive replacement Brandon Dixon, Riley Moore and Gilbert - combined to go 6 for 17 Friday with four of the club's six RBIs. In four NCAA playoff games, the bottom of the order is hitting a .439 (29 for 66) with 15 RBIs.
All played roles in the final inning.
St. John's was leading 6-5 in the bottom of the 10th when Robert Refsnyder worked a full-count walk and advanced to second on Seth Mejias-Brean's sacrifice bunt. Brown then ripped an RBI single up the middle, and Refsnyder scored, tying the game. Dixon singled, putting runners on the corners with one out.
St. John's reliever Kevin Kilpatrick walked Moore, loading the bases, before being replaced by right-hander James Lomangino. The reliever got ahead of Gilbert with two quick strikes, then threw a curveball in the dirt in an attempt to get the Wildcat to chase.
He didn't. And when Lomangino left his next pitch up in the zone, Gilbert pounced.
"With two strikes and the bases loaded, I'm just trying to make contact," he said. "I just tried to stay back and put the ball in play and make something happen."
The walk-off hit was yet another sign that the second baseman, often criticized for his defense, is figuring it out. In 58 games, the Torrance, Calif., native is hitting .282 with nine extra-base hits and 37 RBIs.
"You got from a survival stage to the improvement stage to the 'win' stage," Lopez said. "There was a time when he was probably in the survival stage, and then he started improving, and now he's getting in the 'win' stage.
"It's a maturing process, but it's nice to see it come to fruition. We try to get guys ready to compete in big situations."
Guys like Kurt Heyer. The Wildcats ace pitched 9 1/3 innings Friday, surrendering six runs and a career-high 17 hits. He threw 129 pitches in what was almost certainly his final college home game; Heyer is expected to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals once the season is over. The right-hander didn't have his best stuff but limited St. John's to only one big inning: a five-run fourth. The Red Storm left eight men on base.
"What he did after the fourth inning was unbelievably impressive," Lopez said. "He gave our offense a chance to get back in the ballgame."
Heyer said, "In this part of the season, you can't get tired."
The Red Storm (40-22) took a lead in the top of the 10th, when Sean O'Hare ripped an RBI double to left field with one out. Heyer was lifted for Mat Troupe, and the reliever escaped the jam. O'Hare was thrown out at home as he tried to score on Zach Lauricella's single. The next batter, Danny Bethea, flied out to the warning track in right field.
The escape gave the Wildcats just enough momentum to stay in the game - and, eventually, win it.
"We had them on the ropes, and we didn't finish the job," SJU coach Ed Blankmeyer said. "The bottom line is we gave them some things. They didn't give us anything - we took it from them."
On StarNet: See more photos from Arizona's come-from-behind win over St. John's at azstarnet.com/gallery
Arizona vs. St. John's, best-of-three series at Hi Corbett Field:
• Friday: Arizona 7, St. John's 6
• Today: Noon (ESPN2)
• Sunday: 1 p.m. (ESPN2), if necessary
• Radio: 1290-AM
• Tickets: arizonawildcats.com.