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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Baseball on the rebound in pivotal series

    Like Andy Lopez told his players, the Arizona baseball team won’t be crowned champions of the Pacific 10 Conference with a road series win at UCLA – nor will they be “”kicked out of the conference”” if they lose. But the three-game set that starts today has major implications within the conference race.

    After riding a 16-game winning streak to an 8-0 record to open the Pac-10 season, No. 14 Arizona (31-9, 9-3) has dropped three of its past four games to Pac-10 cellar-dwelling Stanford and Washington State, and suddenly finds itself in third place in the standings.

    “”We put ourselves in a bad situation by losing two out of three to freakin’ Washington State,”” said second baseman Colt Sedbrook.

    Added reliever Jason Stoffel, “”We’ve got to get back to what we were doing, put the last weekend behind us and just kind of go and play.””

    Now, the Wildcats head to the road for the third straight weekend to face a No. 25 Bruin team that has won seven of its past eight games.

    “”They’re really going good right now,”” said Lopez, Arizona’s head coach. “”They’ve really put it together during conference.””

    UCLA (22-17, 8-1) took its licks in a non-conference slate ranked No. 1 nationally by the college baseball rankings Web site boydsworld.com, five times playing teams in the top 25 of the NCAA’s official RPI – which helps determine the 64-team field of regional postseason play, and was released for the first time ever Tuesday. Arizona, by contrast, has played only two opponents in that top 25.

    The Bruins were 10-14 heading into conference play but thanks in part sweeps of Stanford and USC now sit atop the conference standings. They’ve also gone 4-2 against non-conference foes since the start of Pac-10 play.

    “”UCLA, they’re on a hot streak right now,”” said closer Daniel Schlereth, who will pitch in the conference season for the first time all year, having missed the first four weeks with torn cartilage in his right rib cage. “”It’s a huge series for us.””

    The weekend matchup – which kicks off at 6 p.m. with Arizona ace Preston Guilmet (8-0) going against UCLA’s Tyson Brummet (7-4) – has set itself up to be nothing short of a pivotal series.

    “”If you’re going to stay in this race to try and win the conference championship, you’ve got to beat the people either on you, right behind you, or ahead of you, and this happens to be a team that’s right ahead of us,”” Lopez said. “”So if we want to stay in this race, we’ve got to go there and get that thing done.””

    Arizona’s recent mini-skid has seen the Wildcats score only three runs in each of their past four games.

    “”You’re putting an awful lot of strain on a (pitching) staff if you’re going to go out and get three runs a game,”” Lopez said.

    It also caused the head coach to close practice for the first time all season Tuesday in an effort to refocus his team.

    “”Obviously, we’ve got to play a little better (today), Saturday and Sunday this coming weekend,”” Lopez said, “”and it wouldn’t matter if it was at UCLA, Sancet (Stadium) or on the Moon. We have to play better.””

    As they head on the road for the third consecutive weekend – the Wildcats are the only team in the Pac-10 that has to do so – many players insist the extra travel doesn’t bother them.

    Still, Arizona is 9-7 on the road this season, compared to 21-2 at home.

    “”It’s going to be nice to end this road trip, I won’t lie about that,”” Lopez said.

    “”It’s just more of a challenge, because you’re in an adverse situation,”” he added. “”But the thing that I’ve impressed upon (our players) is that every year we take back-to-back road trips, so we just got one (extra) thrown in there.””

    Extra bases

    The Wildcats checked in at No. 27 in the NCAA’s first-ever publicly released RPI; UCLA was 51st. Five Pac-10 teams, including ASU (8), Oregon State (25) and USC (43), were ranked in the top 64. … Brad Mills (8-3) will toe the mound in tomorrow’s 2 p.m. start. UCLA has yet to name a starter. … The Bruins will throw Gavin Brooks (3-4) on Sunday at 1 p.m., as the Wildcats have yet to pencil in a starter for that day.

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