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Pac-12 bids farewell as Arizona wins baseball title

Written by 
Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 26 May 2024 08:07

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Waves of fans streamed into Scottsdale Stadium an hour before the start, anticipation building each minute closer to first pitch.

They came to see the Pac-12 baseball championship game. They got a dose of history with it.

With Arizona and Southern California atop the marquee, the undercurrent of Saturday night's game swirled around what could be a finality: the end of the Pac-12 Conference as we know it.

"It's weird that it feels like it's the end of it," said Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 baseball draft after three seasons at Arizona State. "I guess it makes sense: Money talks to these conferences."

Money certainly led to the demise of the once-proud Pac-12.

With no imminent media rights deal on the horizon, the conference began to splinter, starting with USC and UCLA's decision to leave for the Big Ten.

The seismic shift east led to a tsunami of defections.

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah opted for a move to the Big 12. Washington and Oregon joined the SoCal schools in heading to the Big Ten. California and Stanford will be in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

That left Washington State and Oregon State clinging to the remnants of a Pac-12 facing what's still an uncertain future.

"That's the sad thing about it: You start talking about those awards, you start thinking, boy, that's the last time this conference is going to be able to do that," said Arizona coach Chip Hale, the first person to earn Pac-12 baseball player of the year (1987) and coach of the year (2024) honors.

Unless the conference resurrects, Hale and his Wildcats will go out as the Pac-12's final champions after rallying from a three-run deficit to beat the Trojans 4-3 in front a raucous, pro-Arizona crowd at Scottsdale Stadium.

"What a great way for it to end, not only for the baseball season but the sports' history for this conference," Hale said.

And if this is the end, the conference went out with a bang.

USC won its 21st men's beach volleyball national championship, and the USC women won their fourth straight. UCLA's women's water polo won its eighth NCAA championship with its third undefeated season.

Stanford's women's golf team won its second national title in three years out of an all-Pac-12 final four, and its men's gymnastics team also won a national championship. The Arizona State men won their first swimming and diving national title in March.

"Growing up, it was the Pac-10 then the Pac-12, it was just so much fun to watch," said Torkelson, who grew up in Petaluma, California. "I feel like there were so many great teams in every sport."

The self-proclaimed Conference of Champions will leave quite a legacy, even if most of it will be relegated to the history books.

The Pac-12, founded as the Pacific Coast Conference in 1916, has claimed 561 team national championships -- over 200 more than the next closest conference -- and more than 1,200 individual titles.

The conference was home to the some of the greatest athletes in college sports history, from Jackie Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Tiger Woods and Katie Ledecky.

It also was the home of Pac-12 After Dark, those wild, high-scoring football games that ran well past midnight Eastern time.

Arizona gave the conference one last after-dark dose, scoring a run in the seventh inning, two in the eighth and walking it off on Tommy Splaine's run-scoring single in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Wildcats rushing onto the field.

"It's the last game for the Pac-12, and that's a sad deal," Hale said, "but now it's on to the Big 12."

Now, the Pac-12 might be going dark, with its legacy shifting toward the rearview mirror.

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