Why do the Arizona Wildcats and ASU Sun Devils play five college baseball games a year?
Because six might kill us all.
It was another weekend of intense rivalry drama with the Cats escaping Tempe with a series victory and keeping their NCAA tournament hopes flickering.
The three games over the weekend weren’t just close, they were crazy. Friday night’s opener saw the Wildcats sprint out to a 9-0 lead before running out of gas and barely rolling across the finish line with a 10-7 win. The Devil comeback was halted twice, once in the eighth when Johnny Field sprawled out on the warning track dirt to leave the bases loaded, and again in the ninth when Sunday starter Tyler Crawford had to come in and retire the potential tying run three straight times for the save.
The final two games of the series were back-and-forth heart-stoppers as the teams combined to lose five different leads. Arizona State rallied and re-rallied to win 6-3 on Saturday, and Sunday was even wilder. The Sun Devils loaded the bases in both the eighth and ninth in the finale but the UA bullpen turned them back both times, including a rare pitcher-to-catcher-to-first-base double play to clinch the 7-6 victory and the series.
When the dust (and blood pressures) settled Arizona had won its first series in Tempe in eight years. The Cats have taken the season series in consecutive years for the first time since 2005 and ’06.
As an added bonus there’s a strong chance the Wildcats knocked ASU out of a regional hosting slot. There’s a huge difference between playing tournament games at home and traveling to face a powerful team like Cal State Fullerton.
For the weekend’s victors, talk of making the field of 64 begins again. The national writers think it’s too little, too late for Arizona. The Wildcats’ RPI is in the 60s and playing a USC team rated No. 132 isn’t going to help much.
But – and there is a but – as we discussed last week, ending the season winning five of six and finishing .500 in Pac-12 play could get the selection committee to ignore the defending champs’ RPI.
There’s no doubt Arizona has no hope without winning all three games against the Trojans. Can the Cats play well enough to get though an entire weekend unscathed? Can the pitching hold it together for three straight games? That may be a bigger hurdle than the team’s computer ranking.
My gut feeling isn’t good for the Wildcats getting in. However, three weeks ago my gut had Arizona making the tournament. Feel free to believe that gut over this gut.
I cannot deny there’s a chance. Today, right this second, there is hope. That’s what happens when you win a series against a very good team on the road.
That very good team being Arizona’s bitter rival is a pretty sweet bonus.
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