Baseball: Championship culture awaits Kevin Elder at Arizona

Story Image Arizona players hoist the trophy after defeating South Carolina 4-1 to win the College World Series last month in Omaha, Neb. Local pitcher Kevin Elder will be a freshman with the Wildcats next season. | Eric Francis~AP

Kevin Elder couldn’t ask for a better situation as he heads off to college.

The local pitching standout planned to depart this weekend for the University of Arizona, where he will join a national champion after the Wildcats went undefeated throughout the postseason on their way to winning the College World Series.

Elder was on hand when Arizona clinched its fourth national title in program history with a 4-1 victory against South Carolina on June 25 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

“We were watching the (first Championship Series game) on Sunday night when my dad says, ‘You know, I have Monday off and it’s only a six-hour drive to Omaha,’” Elder said. “So we drove out there the next day and were out there all day before watching them win it. It was pretty cool.”

Elder greeted Arizona coach Andy Lopez and his staff in the lobby of the team’s hotel prior to the game but otherwise didn’t have much contact with the team.

Instead, he simply soaked up the atmosphere as one of the 23,872 fans in attendance for the clincher.

“Seeing them win it and being there was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to be on this team next year,’” Elder said. “I want to put myself in a situation where I can be on the field when they actually win again.”

Elder signed with Arizona last August following his junior year at Westminster Christian. He transferred to Burlington Central in December after the first semester of his senior year but was ruled ineligible to play for the Rockets by the Illinois High School Association.

With no senior high school season, Elder worked out with Burlington Central, served as a team manager for the Rockets and also participated in Perfect Game USA’s Iowa spring traveling league on the weekends.

Elder, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound right-hander, boasts a fastball that has been clocked as high as 92 mph. He went 22-6 with 375 strikeouts in 217 2/3 innings during his three varsity seasons at Westminster Christian and also helped the Warriors win the 2010 Class 1A state title.

Elder looks forward to getting acclimated in Tucson, Ariz., where he will join a small number of incoming Arizona recruits who are also arriving during the summer months prior to the start of school and the team’s fall practices.

“We’re just going to get in the swing of things,” Elder said. “I’ll take a couple classes and start working with the team’s strength coach before fall comes around.”

Elder is hoping to land a spot in Arizona’s starting rotation, but that could be a tough task as a freshman, so he said he’d also be satisfied to serve as a relief pitcher.

Lopez, who was named the 2012 National Coach of the Year, has led Arizona to the NCAA playoffs in eight of the past 10 years, including two appearances in the College World Series. The Wildcats finished with a 48-17 record in 2012 and had only one senior in the starting lineup for their final game of the year, so more success appears to be on the way.

“It’s a good situation going in,” Elder said. “I look forward to doing what I can and doing my part to help the team get back (to Omaha).”

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