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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Baseball heads on crucial road trip

    Wildcat center fielder T.J. Steele leaps at and misses a fly ball during Wednesdays 13-4 win over San Diego State at Sancet Stadium. After its nonconference mid-week two-game series, Arizona resumes play in the Pacific 10 Conference today as it faces UC-Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., for a critical three-game weekend tilt.
    Wildcat center fielder T.J. Steele leaps at and misses a fly ball during Wednesday’s 13-4 win over San Diego State at Sancet Stadium. After its nonconference mid-week two-game series, Arizona resumes play in the Pacific 10 Conference today as it faces UC-Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., for a critical three-game weekend tilt.

    It’s that time in Arizona’s baseball season. The time when the postseason is suddenly on the horizon and every game has a little more meaning.

    With 12 games remaining, including a trio of Pacific 10 Conference series on tap, the Arizona baseball team is at the forefront of what is shaping up to be a crucial three-week stretch.

    With the Wildcats (30-13, 7-8 Pac-10) sitting in fifth place in the conference, three games out of first place and a mere 0.039 overall percentage points above California (27-14, 7-8), Arizona heads into this weekend’s series against the Golden Bears with a chance to make a strong start to its final push for a conference title and the potential of becoming a regional host.

    The task will not be easy as the Wildcats will begin the stretch in Berkeley, Calif. this afternoon at 2:30, a place where the Golden Bears hold a 17-4-2 record.

    “”We don’t play easy teams anymore,”” said shortstop Bryce Ortega. “”These next three (conference) series are very crucial with Stanford, ASU and Cal all in the top of the Pac-10. It’s going to be real tight in each game, pretty intense.””

    Trailing conference-leading ASU by three games, Arizona certainly has its work cut out for itself. While the Wildcats are dominating non-conference opponents this season with a 23-5 record, they have struggled thus far in Pac-10 play as they have lost four of five conference series including two to teams currently below them in the standings, USC and Washington.

    Arizona’s best luck against conference foes has come at home where the team holds a 4-2 record, which bodes well for later in the month when Stanford and ASU make the trip to Tucson.

    But starting today, the Wildcats will attempt to achieve something thus far unattainable in 2008 – winning a conference series on the road.

    “”We’ve struggled a bit early on (in conference games), but we know we need to win every series from here on out,”” said relief pitcher Ryan Perry. “”But we’re still taking things one game at a time, trying to string together hits and put up zeros defensively.””

    Arizona’s defense tightened up dramatically from the 1.5 errors-per-game average it recorded early on in the season, so putting up zeros has been much easier for Wildcat pitchers lately.

    With the defense playing at its best, the Arizona pitching staff has begun to emerge as the truly elite group it was expected to be at the start of the season.

    With a staff ERA of 3.50, Arizona sits atop the conference in that category while also including three starters individually in the top 10, tied with ASU. Additionally, the Wildcats also lead the Pac-10 in strikeouts (405) and fewest home runs allowed (18).

    “”(The pitching staff) has done a really good job,”” said UA head coach Andy Lopez. “”We’ve had guys who’ve had to throw a lot with the number of games we have and they’ve done really well and kept us in several ball games and that’s the key. But if we want to continue to be successful our pitching has to stay consistent.””

    For almost guaranteed consistency, Arizona will turn to ace Preston Guilmet (5-2) today. The right-hander, who threw a complete-game, five-hit shutout in his last appearance, will likely face Cal’s ace Kevin Miller.

    Miller (5-0) currently leads the Pac-10 in ERA with an average of 2.03 and will provide a large challenge for a notoriously inconsistent Arizona offense.

    After a stretch of 13 games in which the Wildcats averaged just under seven runs per game, their bats fell silent against conference foe Oregon State last weekend when Arizona dropped the series after only scoring five runs in two games.

    When the Wildcats only managed three runs against San Diego State on Tuesday, Lopez berated his team for its offensive mistakes, but Arizona will get its chance at redemption tonight against one of the hottest arms in the game.

    “”(Lopez) has told us we need to manufacture (runs) if we’re gonna win, especially in the Pac-10,”” Ortega said. “”We’ve been leaving a lot (of) guys on (base) in crucial situations and we can’t do that (this weekend) if we want to be successful.””

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