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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    That’s just ‘Standard Ortega’

    Sarah Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

Wildcats take down the New Mexico Lobos 9-3 at Sancet Stadium on Tuesday night.
    Mike Christy
    Sarah Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Wildcats take down the New Mexico Lobos 9-3 at Sancet Stadium on Tuesday night.

    Top of the fifth inning, two outs with the Wildcats clinging to a three-run lead and New Mexico’s Mike Brownstein rips a grounder to the left side of the infield.

    UA third baseman Jett Bandy watches as the screamer rockets through the infield – a sure-fire base hit.

    Then, out of nowhere, shortstop Bryce Ortega zips to his right, makes a full-extension dive to stop the grounder, immediately pops up to his feet and fires a laser over to first base – all in one fluid motion.

    It was a thing of beauty, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for Ortega.

    “”He’s the surest thing we’ve got,”” UA head coach Andy Lopez said of his shortstop. “”Ortega is pretty special.””

    The play against New Mexico on Tuesday night was the latest addition to what can already be considered a season’s worth of highlights for Ortega. In fact, just two batters before that play, he ranged to his right, backhanded a grounder and made a leaping throw across the diamond – the same type of play that has made Derek Jeter an ESPN Top Plays favorite.

    “”(I was) just trying to help our pitcher and do all I could do,”” Ortega said Tuesday. “”That stuff doesn’t happen all the time in one inning. When it clumps together like that, it’s real cool.””

    His defensive prowess Tuesday night not only drew applause from the fans, but inspired his teammates to jump out of the dugout to congratulate and get a piece of the defensive wizard, screaming in unison, “”Standard Ortega!””

    But it’s how Ortega carries himself on and off the field that makes Lopez wish Ortega was the standard.

    “”He’s just a baseball player that works real hard and he goes to class,”” Lopez said. “”He does everything off the field the right way, and he does everything on the field the right way.””

    Ortega epitomizes the “”blue-collar”” player image. A walk-on with no scholarship, Ortega doesn’t have the pedigree a lot of other Arizona recruits have. But his attitude and work ethic make Lopez and the rest of his staff wish the roster was filled with more guys like him.

    “”You go and recruit all these other guys and make all these phone calls, and then a guy like Bryce Ortega shows up in your life,”” Lopez said of Ortega, who is also third on the team with a .374 batting average.

    “”The challenge that we face now in this day and age with showcases and all types of summer ball for these guys, is to get a guy (like Ortega) who shows up and works his tail off,”” Lopez added. “”He’s just a special player, and you need a lot more guys like Bryce Ortega.””

    For Lopez, just seeing Ortega thrive and become a leader on a team that has lost its direction justifies his desire to coach.

    “”It’s good to see guys like that … succeed,”” he said. “”Sometimes you lose heart when guys like that don’t succeed because they do all the right things and then you see some of those knuckleheads that don’t go to class and don’t do the right things.””

    At the very least, Ortega can count on some of his pitchers to pick up the check the next time they order from Domino’s.

    “”Look at Ortega,”” pitcher Joe Allison said after Tuesday’s game. “”I could throw it right down the middle and he’ll make outs. It makes it real easy when he plays like that to just throw strikes.””

    The next level?

    There were several scouts in attendance at Tuesday night’s game, and whether or not they were there to see Ortega, they certainly left the game with the shortstop on their minds.

    The sophomore from Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif., will likely have to deal with scouts complaining about his comparatively diminutive size, but there is a lot of talent and a lot of heart packed into that 5-foot-11, 175-pound body.

    He’s a good athlete with great range, good fielding mechanics, and a strong arm. At the plate, he is a prototypical leadoff batter, leading the team in hits (43) and walks (19).

    Whether Ortega has a future in professional baseball remains to be seen since he isn’t eligible for the MLB Draft until after his junior season. Until then he will do what he does best – play hard, and have a good time.

    “”On nights like (Tuesday),”” Ortega said, “”it’s just fun.””

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