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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Young Wildcats looking to salvage season

    Roxana Vasquez/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

Wildcats lose against Oregon State 8-3 Saturday afternoon at Sancet Stadium.
    Roxana Vasquez
    Roxana Vasquez/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Wildcats lose against Oregon State 8-3 Saturday afternoon at Sancet Stadium.

    For all intents and purposes, the Arizona baseball team’s season has been a disappointment. The Wildcats are 3-12 in the Pacific 10 Conference and are a distant 10 games behind archrival Arizona State.

    There have been some bright spots, though, and they’ve come from unexpected places.

    Local product terrorizing opposing pitchers

    When practice opened up back in February, Arizona head coach Andy Lopez was noticeably excited about his incoming freshman hitters. One player he was particularly enamored with was Shaun Cooper, a Tucson product from Catalina Magnet High School.

    He came in with a reputation as a fearsome hitter and was expected to make an immediate impact. Unfortunately, his defensive abilities kept him off the field.

    After a few weeks, Lopez gave Cooper a chance at the designated hitter position and it turned out to be one of the best decisions the skipper has made all season. While Cooper has yet to field a single ball on defense, he has established himself as a horse in the middle of the batting order.

    Despite starting just 15 games this season, Cooper is third on the team with nine doubles and his three home runs are good enough for second best on the team.

    “”I’m just trying to step up and do as much as I can to help the team win,”” Cooper said.

    Defensive specialist turned starter

    In contrast to Cooper’s reputation, freshman shortstop Kyle Stiner stepped onto campus as a defensive specialist with a questionable bat.

    His glove got him onto the field as a late-inning defensive replacement, but the success of sophomore shortstop Bryce Ortega made it difficult for Lopez to justify giving him a chance to start at his natural position.

    So what happened? Lopez gave Stiner a shot at second base and he hasn’t looked back.

    The freshman has 64 assists, but more importantly is hitting for a .310 average and has scored 18 runs as the ninth hitter in the lineup. The combination of Stiner and Ortega not only gives Arizona a formidable double play combination for years to come, but it gives Lopez a lot of athleticism in his offense.

    Veterans coming through

    Junior catcher Dwight Childs and senior outfielder Hunter Pace have always been known for their defense, but they were both liabilities offensively. Not only have they exceeded expectations at the plate this season, they’ve become two of the best hitters on the team.

    Childs, who has been one of the nation’s premier defensive catchers, hit just .193 last season with a meager 23 hits. But thanks to a rigorous off-season workout in Phoenix and a detailed hitting plan, Childs has already eclipsed his hit total from last year and is hitting .338 with 21 RBIs and a .588 slugging percentage.

    In addition to Childs, Pace has also had an offensive reincarnation. The outfielder only appeared in 21 games last season and hit for a .143 average. This season, however, Pace has firmly locked down an everyday spot in the lineup. His .356 batting average is third on the team, and when combined with his .450 on-base percentage, Pace is a bona fide No. 2 hitter in any lineup.

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