Beep, beep, beep…

You hear that? It’s the sound of Arizona Baseball backing into the NCAA tournament.

I-18

I-80 is going to be crowded coming from the west.
Photo by Jeff Metcalfe/The Arizona Republic

The Cats got the news they were hoping for when they were included among the 64 teams in the 2010 Big Diamond Dance. The Pac-10 got the news it wanted when all eight teams in contention made the field. The previous record for the league was six bids in 1992.

What’s interesting is not only did Cal get in but the Bears were seeded higher than Oregon, Arizona and OSU. It appears the committee used the RPI to select teams but then put a higher weight on the conference standings to seed them.

Here is a look at the competition the Wildcats will face in the Fort Worth, Texas regional:

1-seed: TCU
Record: 46-11
Conference Finish: 1st in the Mountain West
RPI: 15
Momentum: Runaway train
The Horned Frogs have won 26 of their last 30 games. They finished the regular season by sweeping Cal State Bakersfield by a combined score of 32-1.

2-seed: Baylor
Record: 34-22
Conference Finish: 6th in the Big 12
RPI: 35
Momentum: Peaking at the right time
The Bears won nine of 11 to close the season, including a trip to the Big 12 tournament championship game.

3-seed: ARIZONA
Record: 33-22
Conference Finish: Tied for 7th in the Pac-10
RPI: 24
Momentum: Like trying to sled uphill. In the mud. Towing a piano.
As has been said many times, the UA lost six straight series to finish the regular season. At least the Wildcats don’t have any pressure.

4-seed: Lamar
Record: 35-24
Conference Finish: Tied for 6th in the Southland
RPI: 115
Momentum: Cinderellaesque
No, not this Lamar, that Lamar, or even that Lamar. After finishing with a losing conference record the Cardinals won four straight games to win the Southland tournament and steal the league’s automatic bid.

Getting eight teams into the tournament – including a team that just brought baseball back last year – is a really big accomplishment for the Pac-10. In fact, having 80% of one conference in the field has never been done before.

Now the challenge is making sure nobody regrets including that much Pac. ASU and UCLA need to take care of business at home and some of the other six need to surprise people. For the best bets to pull off upsets give me Washington State in Arkansas’ regional, and Oregon in Connecticut’s regional (where Florida State is the 1-seed).

The good news for the relieved Pac-10 squads is the only other previous Pac teams to make the tournament with losing conference records made the most of their extra life. In 2006 Stanford won its regional and the ’07 Oregon State Beavers just happened to win the national championship.

As for Arizona’s chances? Well, the last time the Cats won consecutive games in the same weekend was April 17 and 18. The last (and only) time this team won back-to-back road games? April 11 at Washington and April 12 at Gonzaga. Considering you need to win at least three games to advance, it’s not looking good for the guys in cardinal and navy.

But, to borrow a cliché from your parents, it’s the experience that counts. Eight of the ten regular position players and eight of the ten main pitchers are freshmen and sophomores so this will be their first taste of postseason play. Playing in a new ballpark, facing a different team every day, feeling the stress of an elimination game, the young Cats need to soak it all in.

The Wildcats are playing for next year. Of course you play to win and you go as far as you can, but the big-picture goal is to use this weekend as the springboard for 2011 when Arizona hopes to be one of the teams with the high expectations.

Until then the Cats can be proud to be a part of the Pac-10’s historic Great Eight.