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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Much to be gained against Bruins

    JAKE LACEY

Baseball vs Cal State Fullerton. Sunday.
    Jake Lacey
    JAKE LACEY Baseball vs Cal State Fullerton. Sunday.

    Pac-10 Baseball: Arizona vs. UCLA

    When the Arizona baseball team hosts UCLA for a three-game set starting tonight at 7, it will be like looking in the mirror.

    From Arizona head coach Andy Lopez, who played baseball for the Bruins from 1974-75 and is a member of their baseball Hall of Fame – “”The credibility of the institution diminishes greatly when they found out I graduated from there,”” Lopez quipped – to the all-time series between the rivals, which sits at 106-105-1 in Arizona’s favor, the similarity between the schools is uncanny.

    Lopez is 8-7 against his alma mater during his tenure at Arizona, and 14-12 all-time.

    In 30 games so far this year, the Wildcats (14-16, 2-4 Pacific-10 Conference) are hitting .271 as a team and average 5.7 runs, 9.2 hits and 5.3 RBIs per game. Meanwhile, the Bruins (18-14, 3-3) average 5.8 runs, 9.2 hits and 5.2 RBIs while hitting .273.

    Though both teams feature an ace who doubles as a designated hitter (the Bruins’ redshirt junior righty Hector Ambriz and the Wildcats’ sophomore lefty Eric Berger), Arizona will most likely continue to be without the services of their double threat, as Berger aggravated an old tendon injury in his throwing elbow in a series against then-No. 7 Cal State Fullerton in mid-March.

    “”He’s still questionable, and probably more questionable than not questionable,”” Lopez said. “”If he were in uniform this weekend, that would be a great, great early Christmas gift for coach Lopez.””

    Berger has been examined by Dr. Lewis Yokum, who performed Tommy John surgery on a number of major leaguers – from the Phillies’ Randy Wolf to the Yankees’ Scott Erickson – when he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles.

    “”He’s seen Dr. Yokum,”” Lopez said. “”It’s not anything that he thinks needs surgery, but it is something that he needs to rehab. It’ll be a day-to-day situation.

    “”We miss him a lot because we’re losing two guys. We’re losing the 3-4 hole hitter and a Friday-night guy.””

    Right-handed freshman Preston Guilmet (2-4, 3.33 ERA) will get the nod in Berger’s stead tonight, while Ambriz (5-4, 3.86) will toe the mound for the Bruins.

    As both teams jockey for position in the wide-open Pac-10, the out-of-the-ordinary series that starts today, due to the Easter holiday Sunday, could prove to be key as the season wears on.

    Entering the weekend tilt, Arizona sits in an eighth-place tie with Stanford in the nine-team conference, and UCLA is tied with No. 11 Oregon State for sixth after taking two-of-three from Washington State last weekend.

    But the good news for both teams is that after conference-leading No. 20 Southern California – which sits at 7-2 in conference play – only two games separate second place from the cellar, as No. 13 ASU is 4-2, meaning any team is only a good weekend away from second place.

    “”That can be made up in a weekend,”” Lopez said. “”By Monday morning, you could wake up and be right there.””

    Added sophomore southpaw David Coulon: “”There are a few teams up there with a couple of losses, so we know that with a couple of wins, we could get right back in this.””

    But freshman outfielder Jon Gaston believes it’s not the conference itself that’s left the Wildcats in their current position.

    “”I don’t know if it’s the Pac-10 that’s so tough,”” said Gaston, who smacked his team-leading fourth home run of the season last weekend against then-No. 14 Oregon State, “”it’s just that we’re not playing to our full potential that makes it look like it’s tough.””

    After dropping the first two games to the Beavers last week, the Wildcats bounced back to take the final game of the series behind a strong effort from Coulon, who scattered five hits over seven innings to pick up his first win of the season.

    “”I always have my confidence, I think Sunday just helped that out a little bit more,”” said Coulon, who attributed the successful outing to a change in his mechanics.

    It wasn’t just Coulon’s confidence that was boosted, as Lopez believes the impact of the win was felt by his entire team in other areas besides standings.

    “”Because of how we’ve been this year, I thought Sunday’s win may have been – and I hope I can look back on it like this – a turning point,”” Lopez said. “”It was as big a win as we’ve had here in the last three or four years.

    “”I don’t think we could have left Corvallis, (Ore.), without a win and really felt we were going to survive here.””

    Above all else, however, the Wildcats just want to continue to play the way they did Sunday.

    “”Coach gave us a long speech, and we came out and showed what we’re capable of doing,”” Gaston said. “”That’s how we should be playing every series, with a little bit of aggression, a little bit of anger. It’s something that we’re missing.””

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