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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona, Missouri baseball take similar paths to NCAA Regional

Arizona baseball does not begin its quest for a fourth NCAA championship, which would be its first since 1986, or its first College World Series appearance since the 2004 season until tonight at Hi Corbett Field, but head coach Andy Lopez has had his team playing in postseason form for almost a month.

“I told these guys we’ve been in postseason since the Sunday loss against Oregon (May 6),” Lopez said.

The final game of the Oregon series, a 3-1 loss was the last series loss of the season for Arizona (38-17). In a meeting after the game, Lopez leveled with his team and explained the severity of their postseason situation. Following the loss, Arizona was a mere 12-8 in conference play and in danger of not winning the conference or hosting a regional.

“I looked at these guys and said ‘If you want to win the conference, you can’t lose another series the entire season,” Lopez said. “If we lose two of three in any of those weeks, they’re getting their individual awards, but there’s no celebration last Sunday, and nobody’s got that white T-shirt that says ‘Pac-12 Champions.’”

That postseason mentality led to a 8-2 run to finish the season in which the Wildcats won all but two games by two runs or more.

Coming off a run like that to end a season, one would think Arizona has all the momentum heading into tonight’s game. The problem with that theory is that the NCAA sent Missouri, one of the hottest teams in the country to play in Tucson.

Missouri was just one game over .500, 27-26, and just 9-14 in conference play at the start of the Big 12 baseball tournament. Following a sweep of the competition, Missouri enters the Tucson regional as a four seed, but one that has had the same sense of urgency Arizona has in its final games.

“We knew going into the Big 12 tournament that we didn’t have the body of work to get into a regional,” Missouri senior catcher Ben Turner said. “We knew we’d kind of have to win it.”

Missouri has been in this situation before, earning a berth in the 2006 regional as a four seed at-large selection, one of the last teams to be selected for the tournament. The Tigers turned opportunity into a 4-1 record in the Pepperdine regional, advancing to the super regional round, only to be knocked out by Cal State Fullerton, who went on to play in the College World Series.

Despite not being on the 2006 team that was able to string together enough good baseball to make it out of the first round, Turner said his knowledge of that team is a motivating factor for his team.

“Knowing that we have that history, and that we’ve been there before, that always helps your confidence,” Turner said.

For Lopez, however, Missouri’s improbable run was almost expected.

“You always expect someone to come into your regional kind of hot,” Lopez said. “Somebody is going to come in and you’re going to look at them like ‘Boy, those guys are on fire.’”

Arizona will test how hot the Tigers’ fire is tonight at 8 p.m. when the two face off in the second game of the double-elimination regional.

Three Wildcats earn All-American honors

Alex Mejia, the newly minted Pac-12 player of the year, earned another individual award for his mantle, as it was announced Thursday that he had also been named a first team All-American. With his selection, he becomes the second Wildcat in program history to be named to the first team.

“When I came here, I did not visualize that, I didn’t see it happening, to be honest,” Mejia said. “I kind of just focus on winning, that’s the main goal. I’m fortunate to receive that award.”

Mejia, the UA’s junior shortstop batted .357 with 81 hits and 46 RBI. Joining him on the list are Wildcat ace Kurt Heyer (second team), who finished at the top of the Pac-12 pitching rankings with 11 wins and a 2.03 ERA.

Arizona third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean was named to the third team, batting .351 with 78 hits and 52 RBI on the season.

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