One man’s desperation is another man’s inspiration.
The week began with the Arizona Wildcats baseball team gambling to try and win a single game against ASU. The week ended with a sweep of USC that injected life into a fading squad.
UA coach Andy Lopez looked desperate Tuesday night. Midweek games are supposed to be handled by second-line pitching with the top arms reserved for the “real” games on the weekend. But there was Wildcat ace starter Kurt Heyer throwing six innings in a non-conference game against a team that had already beaten the Cats three out of four times.
The move backfired and the Sun Devils won again. Arizona appeared to be grasping at straws and gasping for air.
Go ahead and exhale, BatCat fans. There’s life in this team yet. A Pac-10 series sweep’s worth of life.
It wasn’t easy. Well, two of the games weren’t. Saturday night’s contest was a 20-4 laugher but the bookends were hard-fought battles where the home team had to come from behind.
In the series opener the Wildcats rallied in the 5th and 8th innings before winning it in the 10th. On Sunday the deficit was 5-0 after three innings before Arizona scored eight unanswered runs the rest of the way.
“It could’ve been real easy for these guys to say, ‘Aw, here we go again,’” Lopez said about trailing early on Friday. “I thought they did a great job of just battling through it. I’m real proud of them.”
The UA offense piled up 32 runs in the three games but the true heroes came out of the Arizona bullpen. Maligned most of the season, the Wildcat relievers were exceptional against USC, picking up all three wins in the series.
Matt Chaffee, Vincent Littleman and Bryce Bandilla each recorded a victory as the trio combined to pitch 12 innings of shutout baseball.
Chaffee, the best closer in America with a 5+ ERA, now has five wins and five saves on the year. He didn’t want to come out of Friday’s extra-inning game and was ready to close it out again Sunday afternoon.
“I wanted it to be on my back,” the junior left-hander said.
Sunday’s win was the true breakthrough for this team. It marked the first time the 2011 Wildcats had won the third game in a Pac-10 series. The Friday magic has been strong. The Sunday curse is finally over.
The beauty of a sweep is it effectively turns one of your previous series losses into a win. The Cats still have only won two of six league series but their Pac-10 record now sits at an even 9-9.
Last year’s team lost six consecutive series to end the season. This year’s team is looking to pull a reversal.
The next hurdle is the final non-conference series, a matchup with Alcorn State. The Braves are just 22-20 overall but have already clinched the SWAC Eastern Division and will bring a 10-game winning streak to Tucson.
After that the Wildcats leave town for back-to-back Pac-10 road series before closing out with three at home. The good news is the UA’s three remaining conference opponents – Washington State, Stanford and Washington – all have losing records in league play.
The potential is there for this team to go on a nice run to finish up the regular season. Can the Cats maintain their intensity and level of execution?
“Now that we know how many games we have left and how much we need to win I don’t think we’re going to be down,” Chaffee said. “I think the rest of the year we’re going to be focused every inning.”
If it was desperation that fueled Arizona against USC, let desperation reign.
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