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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcat baseball has bright outlook

The Arizona bench explodes in celebration after senior Rafael Valenzuela knocked in the game-winning run during a comeback victory against Washington State at Sancet Stadium on Sunday. The 12-11 victory capped off the Wildcats? first Pac-10 sweep of the season.
The Arizona bench explodes in celebration after senior Rafael Valenzuela knocked in the game-winning run during a comeback victory against Washington State at Sancet Stadium on Sunday. The 12-11 victory capped off the Wildcats? first Pac-10 sweep of the season.

After rattling off 15 straight wins, capturing a host of big-time victories and catapulting into the national rankings during the regular season, the Arizona baseball team’s postseason came to an end against Baylor on Sunday.

The most youthful team in the Pacific 10 Conference was eliminated from the Fort Worth Regional after only three games, ending its up-and-down season with a splash of disappointment.

But while the short-lived playoff stint isn’t anything to smile about, Arizona is expected to return 18 of its top 20 players — 15 of whom are freshmen — giving the Wildcats a promising future.

Just ask Baylor.

“”Baylor’s assistant coach in charge of scheduling said, ‘Hey, don’t call us to schedule the next three years. We don’t want to play you guys with that young team,'”” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said a day after the team was eliminated.

That Baylor assistant can speak for the majority of the nation with his comment, as Arizona should be flat-out scary next season and in years to come.

The Wildcats were able to develop much of their young talent this season while winning and gaining a taste of postseason play along the way .

Lopez inserted six of the team’s 17 freshmen in the lineup every day and handed freshman pitcher Kurt Heyer the keys to the pitching staff as well, but that youth and inexperience didn’t show on the diamond.

“”When you look back at it you go, ‘Holy smokes, we ran six freshmen on the field at one time,'”” Lopez said. “”Six out of your nine players are freshmen and at the end of the season they designate the Pac-10 as the toughest conference in the nation, and you’re 34 wins into it.””

The young Arizona team showed the poise and talent to knock off then-No. 1 ASU in Tempe, and also take a game from then-No. 5 UCLA, which can only be a glimpse of what they will do after a full summer of work.

“”Common sense tells you they should be a pretty good team,”” Lopez said. “”If they were .500 or below .500 you could say I wonder how they’re going to be but, like I said, realistically they’re up 2-1 in the eighth inning and winner goes to the championship of the regional. They’ve got a chance to be pretty good.””

The freshman nucleus of shortstop Alex Mejia (.319 batting average), center fielder Joey Rickard (.307), third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean (.310) and outfielder Robert Refsnyder (.344) all hit over .300 in everyday roles.

Heyer started every Friday night game and solidified himself as one of the best pitchers in the Pac-10. Freshman Cole Frenzel cemented himself as the team’s everyday first baseman later in the season after returning from surgery.

Then add in the host of freshmen who gained experience pitching out of the bullpen, as well as the talented sophomores who will return.

Depending on where draft-eligible right fielder and the Wildcats’ top performing sophomore Steve Selsky is drafted, the team could return its two best hitters in Selsky (.370) and sophomore catcher Jett Bandy (.354).

The Wildcats will also return Saturday starter Kyle Simon, who still has untapped potential with the tremendous movement on his fastball to go with his 6-foot-5 frame.

Hard-throwing sophomore lefty Bryce Bandilla also showed how good he could be down the line and will be a huge part of Arizona’s future in the pitching realm.

Needless to say, there is no lack of talent on the Arizona baseball team, and because of the added experience along with the taste of success, the Wildcats could be a top-10 team in the nation next season.

“”They’re very young, they grew up a lot, they matured a lot and I think they’ll be better for the experience,”” Lopez said. “”They did more than represent themselves well in a tough conference and a tough regional, so we’re excited about the days to come.””

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