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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Tough road ahead

    Bobby Stover - Sports Editor
    Bobby Stover – Sports Editor

    Bobby’s World

    The 2008 season was meant to be the one for the Arizona baseball team.

    Ranked No. 1 coming into the year, the only place the Wildcats saw themselves in mid-June was in Omaha. Instead, after what could only be described as a roller-coaster season, Arizona
    finds itself back in Tucson where ESPN’s coverage of the College World Series will be as close as it gets to the Nebraska town.

    Most disappointing about the Wildcats’ premature end to their 2008 campaign is that this year’s squad had nearly every component needed for a championship script. Arizona had a top-notch pitching staff headed by preseason All-American Preston Guilmet and rounded off by dominant young relievers Daniel Schlereth and Jason Stoffel.

    The Wildcats had a lineup stacked with veterans and .300 hitters, all of whom could devastate opposing pitching at any moment.

    In the field, Arizona had veteran leadership as well as several promising candidates backing them up. Tabbed as a preseason No. 1 by a pair of publications and chosen by Pacific 10 Conference coaches to take the conference title, the Wildcats were primed for a “”dream”” season, as head coach Andy Lopez described it on the team’s first practice Feb. 1.

    “”To me, (the ranking) is not about the expectations, it’s about a chance of maybe fulfilling a dream,”” Lopez said. “”When we go out and recruit we always talk about playing for a national title; and now (the players) have this chance to go fulfill their dreams, their visions.””

    But Lopez’s statements came long before the Wildcats’ mighty offense struggled to remain consistent throughout the season and before his ace, Guilmet – who finished 2007 with a 1.87 ERA – wound up with a “”dead arm”” halfway through the season and finished with an above-four ERAÿ- the fifth worst on the team.

    All of Arizona’s preseason accolades came prior to its defense committing 75 errors during the regular season – second most in the Pac-10.

    But still, in some ways throughout the season, the hype rang true. While Arizona finished fourth in the Conference of Champions, the Wildcats ended their regular season with the lowest staff ERA in the conference at 3.91 and finished with the third-highest batting average of .306. Schlereth and Stoffel certainly did not disappoint as both finished the year with over 70 strikeouts in relief work to go along with ERA’s of 1.81 and
    3.00, respectively.

    Despite all that, four months and 61 games following the grand predictions, the Wildcats’ dreams are gone and all that remain are questions regarding what’s to come in Arizona baseball’s future, and it truly is hard to tell.

    Last Thursday and Friday saw 11 Wildcats drafted, only three being seniors, which begs the question: How many will choose to return? Almost certainly leaving are junior pitchers Ryan Perry and Schlereth, both of whom went in the first round to Detroit and Arizona, respectively.

    Along with Schlereth, Perry’s departure would leave a second gaping hole in the Wildcats’ bullpen as the right-handed fireballer became a key reliever midway through the year following an unsuccessful role in the starting rotation early on. Upon making the switch out of the rotation, Perry settled into his new role and finished the year with a 2.89 ERA-second lowest on the team next to Schlereth.

    Also likely missing from the Wildcats’ lineup in 2009 will be center fielder T.J. Steele, who found himself drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Astros. Steele, who batted .319 on the year with 39 RBI’s and a team-leading 28 stolen bases, already told the Daily Star, “”I’m ready to play professional baseball. It’s very exciting.””

    After Steele it gets hazy, but the possibility remains for the entirety of the Wildcats’ starting rotation to disappear as well as right fielder Jon Gaston – who hit .312 on the year including the game winning home run in game one of
    the Super Regional – and Brad Glenn, who not only hit over .300 for the season but was also Arizona’s most consistent third baseman.

    Should all these prospects sign, which is unlikely, the once powerful Wildcats arsenal will be diminished to one led by catcher Dwight Childs, a season .193 hitter, shortstop Bryce Ortega, who hit .326 but committed 17 errors in the field, and a few unproven pitchers, many of whom saw little to no action in
    2008.

    Regardless of who stays or goes, it’s needless to say the road to Omaha will indeed be tougher in ’09, which makes this year’s shortcomings sting that much more.

    But if you ask the Wildcats, they won’t sound quite so discouraged.

    “”I know for a fact that you’re never really happy unless you win,”” Lopez said following game three of the Super Regionals. “”But that’s why college athletics is such a great thing, it teaches you to rebound, to get back on top.””

    I guess we’ll see next February just how much the remaining Wildcats have learned.

    -Bobby Stover is a materials science and engineering sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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