The Arizona Wildcats won the weekend baseball series at Southern California but could not get the sweep. As a result the Cats sit just outside first place in the Pac-12 standings but still have a shot at the program’s best regular season in 20 years.
Just a little extra drama with heated rival Arizona State coming to Hi Corbett Field for three games starting on Friday.
Konner Wade, Tyler Crawford and Tyler Hale combined to no-hit USC for eight innings in the middle game. The problem was the eight innings weren’t consecutive and the Trojans got six runs on seven hits in the 6th inning alone to end Arizona’s five-game winning streak.
James Farris and Mathew Troupe got things done on Sunday to pull the Wildcats within one game of Oregon heading into the final weekend of the regular season. This is the closest Andy Lopez has been to a conference title in his 11-year tenure as UA head coach.
In 2005 Arizona went into the final series knowing it needed a sweep to earn a share of the Pac-10 championship. The Cats lost the first game and dropped the series to finish two games behind first-place Oregon State.
The 2007 Wildcat squad finished with a head-to-head showdown against first-place Arizona State but again needed a sweep to become co-champs. Arizona lost the first game and the series to wind up four games back in the standings.
This year the Cats don’t need a sweep…if they can get help from their friends. Oregon State hosts the Ducks and the Beavers have won five of their last six series including two-out-of-three victories over UCLA and Stanford. The only thing is Oregon has won eight of its last nine series.
It’s not likely that Arizona sweeps ASU with the Sun Devils having two of the five best starting pitchers in the league in Trevor Williams and Brady Rodgers. It’s less likely that Oregon gets swept in Corvallis. So the game plan is for the Wildcats to win two while the Ducks lose two. Simple enough, right?
All this “pennant race” talk is actually a bonus for the UA. Yes, Arizona was picked to finish second in the conference before the season started but Stanford was a consensus top-five team nationally and wasn’t expected to have any trouble in the Pac-12. (Oregon was picked to finished seventh. Oops.)
The primary goal heading into the season – the real monkey on the program’s back – was hosting a regional.
Postseason games at home. It hasn’t happened in Tucson for 20 long years, or two coaching changes ago. The latest RPI numbers show Arizona right on the cusp of the top 16 but that’s only good for fourth best among eligible Pac-12 teams. Considering that in the last ten years the Pac-12 has never been awarded more than three regionals, it’s a bad sign.
Working in Arizona’s favor is the recent return of the Pac-12 to baseball prominence. In 2010 it was a record eight teams making the tournament. There were another six bids last year and three Pac teams hosted for the first time in nine seasons.
It also helps that there are no dominant teams from other western conferences. Cal State Fullerton is the best candidate but the Titans just lost a home series to a bad UC Riverside team. That will swing more votes Arizona’s way when it comes to projecting the tournament field.
In other words, if the Pac-12 is going to get four regionals, this is the year.
So Wildcat Universe should root against Fullerton on the road against Long Beach State. Root against teams like Rice, Arkansas and Kentucky that are in the neighborhood of the RPI top 16. And buy tickets. The fact that Arizona at Hi Corbett leads the Pac-12 (and the entire area west of Texas and east of Hawai’i) in attendance does matter. The NCAA wants people in the seats.
But taking care of business on the field is most important. Beating ASU is the best thing Arizona can do to improve its chances of being awarded a regional.
Why is it such a big deal to host?
The last time Arizona hosted a regional, Andy Lopez won the national championship.
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