The Arizona Wildcats baseball team opened the 2011 season with three home wins over North Dakota State. The Cats had little difficulty, posting scores of 10-0, 12-1 and 8-1.
Coach Andy Lopez was especially pleased his team only walked four hitters and committed just two errors in the three games. “Our plan for success this year is going to be pitching and defense,” he said.
With cleanup hitter Steve Selsky on the shelf with a hand injury it was senior DH Josh Garcia filling the early void with two home runs Saturday and a Sunday grand slam. “To have Garcia the way he’s going right now is picking up some slack,” Lopez said.
Garcia credits his fast start to a change in his batting stance due a knee injury that hampered him most of last season. “I was a high leg-kick guy,” he explained. “Now I barely even stride.” It certainly didn’t hurt that there was a stiff breeze blowing out to left. “I took advantage of it this weekend,” the right-hander said with a laugh.
Sophomore pitcher Tyler Hale got the win on Sunday with six strong innings. His first career start was the final game of the 2010 season so it was a long wait before start #2.
Hale doesn’t do a lot of waiting on the mound. “I think (working quickly) keeps the batters off balance,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got endurance and I like to use it to my advantage.” With the February wind blowing through the stands the fans appreciated it as well.
It was all smiles after beating up on the Bison of NDSU but the Wildcats know the level of competition jumps up in a hurry. With a road series at Long Beach State starting on Friday and a couple midweek games against Rice in Tucson, the UA will have five games in six days against traditionally strong programs. “The world gets pretty busy for us right now,” Lopez said.
The players are looking forward to the early travel. “Honestly, I think it’s a good thing,” said Hale. “Last year we kind of died down. Getting some (away games) early will help us later in the season.”
“We have some pretty tough road games in the Pac-10,” Garcia added. “Going to A-State, going to UCLA. Next weekend will prepare us for the Pac-10. That’s where the games count.”
Lopez knows the conference will again be tough. He said, “Somebody tells me everybody and their mother is ranked in Pac-10 baseball.”
That doesn’t mean the head Wildcat isn’t optimistic. “I really felt pretty good about this group going into the weekend,” Lopez said. And now?
“What I felt is probably on the money.”
Garcia agreed. “It’s a real tight group. Once we have this uniform on, we’re a family.”
With a more experienced team Lopez has greater expectations. “We need to make a deeper run in the postseason,” he said. “You’ve had a full year of college baseball. Now it’s time to get to the next notch.”
Josh Garcia is looking to make it a couple notches deeper his senior year. “Our #1 goal is to go to Omaha,” he said. “That’s why a lot of us come to Arizona.”
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