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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Baseball excited to start Pac-10

Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Arizona baseball team is playing with a visible swagger right now — no matter what, the feeling is the Wildcats will win.

Such is the result of Arizona’s 13-game winning streak, which has the Wildcats primed and ready to begin Pacific 10 Conference play at 6 tonight against Oregon at Sancet Stadium.

“”It’s been great to come out and win like this. It’s a big confidence booster going into the (Pac-10 season),”” said freshman Robert Refsnyder, who leads the team in batting average. “”We’ve come together with this streak, and our confidence has really been built up.””

Arizona (18-4) has overpowered its opponents with its bats, scoring 10 or more runs in six of its last eight games.

But all of the team and individual accolades thus far will be measured against how the Wildcats fare in the Pac-10.

Head coach Andy Lopez explained how he wouldn’t change the team’s approach to winning with the beginning of conference play, saying that all the work in the past month has been in preparation for tonight.

“”We’ve been kind of doing everything with this coming weekend in mind, and not just this weekend, the next 8 or 9 weekends too,”” Lopez said. “”In athletics, if you’re playing well, you do play with a little bounce. We’re going to stay with what we’ve been doing.””

Freshman Kurt Heyer will toe the rubber tonight to get the series started. Heyer has been the Arizona’s unquestioned ace since his first start of the season and has relished the Friday night starter role by posting a 3-0 record and 2.10 ERA.

Sophomores Bryce Bandilla and Kyle Simon will complete the weekend rotation by taking the ball on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. This weekend’s rotation will mark the first time this season the Wildcats have had the same pitching rotation for two weekends in a row.

There also seems to be a more concrete answer to the closer competition in the Arizona bullpen, as Lopez hinted towards the winner after Wednesday’s game.

“”Based on what we’ve seen the past couple weeks, we’re going to go with (Nick) Cunningham at the end,”” Lopez said.

With Cunningham, a freshman, getting the nod to close the game, Arizona will have a freshman ace, closer and lead-off hitter, proof of how the first-year Wildcats haven’t shied away from pressure situations.

They will have to continue to prove they are capable of playing beyond their youth, as it remains to be seen how the freshmen will handle the grind of Pac-10 play.

The Ducks (17-6) come to Tucson with a streak of their own, having won five games in a row and 12 of their last 13.

After dropping the baseball program in 1982, Oregon is now a threat in the Pac-10 in its second year back, due in large part to its pitching staff which boasts the second best ERA in the Pac-10 at 2.31.

Senior first baseman Rafael Valenzuela said Arizona’s continued aggressive style of play would be key in keeping the winning streak rolling against the Ducks.

“”We’re doing the little things right. We’re putting bunts down, we’re doing hit and runs, we’re stealing a lot of bases,”” said Valenzuela. “”It keeps the defense on their heels, they never know if you’re going to bunt, steal or hit and run, and it just keeps the other team guessing.””

As the Wildcats begin their last series in Tucson to cap a 25-game homestand to start the season, Arizona’s ability to stick to its own brand of baseball that includes making things happen on offense will be conducive to winning games against tough conference opponents.

Lopez explained that the modus operandi for success in the Pac-10 is to win two out of three games every series, and he was excited to see how the upstart Wildcats would handle the challenge of conference games.

“”If you’re going to have a special year, you’ve got to get two out of three,”” Lopez said. “”I’m anxious and eager to start playing, and I think these guys are too. We’ve put a pretty good stretch together, so hopefully we’ll continue now that we get into Pac-10 play.””

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