Johnny Field

Johnny Field and the Wildcats are going the wrong way.
Photo by Andy Morales

Last year the Arizona Wildcats and UCLA Bruins met on college baseball’s biggest stage with Arizona prevailing 4-0 on the way to winning the 2012 College World Series.

After UCLA swept the UA this past weekend it looks like only one of the two teams will have a chance to make a return trip to Omaha.

The Wildcats were in desperate need of a series win in Los Angeles but the host Bruins weren’t interested in yielding even a single victory. UCLA won the three games by a combined score of 29-8 and it appears last year’s national champions will be hanging up their cleats before June even begins.

The games on Friday and Sunday were carbon copies of each other (or, for the kids, right-click-Make-a-Copy of each other). The Wildcats started out with a 2-0 lead in both games but things unraveled quickly as UCLA put together a huge inning (seven-run fifth in the opener, six-run third in the finale).

Saturday was just UCLA’s Nick Vander Tuig showing why he’s the Bruins’ leader in wins, innings, complete games, shutouts and ERA among starters. And he doesn’t pitch on Fridays. That’s how you go 34-14 without a single .300 hitter in your lineup.

Last week we said if the Cats were going to turn this around it would have to be the veteran players leading the charge. It hasn’t happened. In the past three Pac-12 series Johnny Field, Trent Gilbert and Brandon Dixon are a combined 22-for-104 at the plate for a .212 average. The trio only has two extra base hits between them over the last two weeks.

It hasn’t looked much better on the mound. Konner Wade and James Farris have averaged less than six innings per start the last three conference series, allowing 27 earned runs combined (34 total runs) for a 7.22 ERA. Looking at the numbers it’s no wonder the UA won just a pair of games over that span.

Are the juniors and experienced sophomores pressing? It’s hard for three or four guys to carry an entire lineup and it’s hard for starting pitchers to compensate for missing half a lineup. Add in the pressure of knowing what last year looked like and it’s not a very relaxing situation.

So where does this sweep leave Arizona? If Omaha is the goal, the Wildcats are somewhere in Yuma. West Yuma.

The UA’s RPI was 83 going into last Friday. Now it’s projected to be 87, or slightly higher than Cal, a team with a losing record.

The only chance at this point is for the Cats to win at least five of their remaining six games and hope the selection committee puts more weight on the .500 conference record (and Arizona’s reigning champion status) than the RPI.

And on top of all that, this week – oh, by the way – there’s that whole rivalry thing. Wildcats and Sun Devils. The in-state schools split the two non-conference games this season so the winner next week gets bragging rights for the year.

Last season was the first time in six years that Arizona won the season series from Arizona State. No matter what happens with the NCAA tournament it would be a significant achievement to make it two years in a row against the highly-ranked Devils.

Maybe a heated rivalry series is what this UA team needs to let go of the pressure of expectation and get back to execution. Forget about projections and focus on rejections, as in The defending state champions aren’t ready to relinquish that title just yet.

There is a lot on the line this week and that is easy to see, even from West Yuma.

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Scott Terrell knows the rivalry is a season unto itself. Choose sides on Twitter and Facebook.