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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Around the Diamond

    UA head baseball coach Andy Lopez watches his players during Tuesdays intrasquad scrimmage at Jerry Kindall Field. Lopez will lead a Wildcat team that will replace nine players drafted into the major leagues, starting with this weekends three-game series against Sacramento State.
    UA head baseball coach Andy Lopez watches his players during Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage at Jerry Kindall Field. Lopez will lead a Wildcat team that will replace nine players drafted into the major leagues, starting with this weekend’s three-game series against Sacramento State.

    Baseball is a sport in which momentum can change with the swing of a bat. One ball over the fence or through an infielder’s legs can launch a potentially weak team onto a roller coaster streak of winning or losing.

    Just ask Fresno State. Unranked and unknown at the start of the season, the Bulldogs went on to hoist the national championship trophy in June, even after starting the season 8-12.

    So this year, when asked his thoughts on Arizona being snubbed on the preseason top-25 polls after having a No. 1 ranking last year and a trip to the Super Regionals, head coach Andy Lopez couldn’t help but laugh.

    “”If you lose nine guys and are still ranked in the top five, there’s got to be something wrong,”” Lopez said with a smile. “”We don’t like thinking we’re in a rebuilding year but when you lose that many guys there’s bound to be some turn around.””

    The result of last year’s highly successful draft for Arizona – with 11 total players drafted – is a slew of new talent and competition in several positions. In fact, several players seen earlier this season may not be familiar to the casual fan.

    Many of the Wildcats’ main contributors from last season left gaps all over the field – from the right side of the infield, to the outfield and definitely in the bullpen. Names such as Ziegler, Steele, Schlereth and Perry will no longer be heard over the loud speaker. Instead, less-familiar ones like Veltmann, Steiner, Doyle and Cooper could become the norm.

    “”No coach in America likes to use the phrase ‘rebuilding year,'”” Lopez said.

    And he is determined to prove that this is not one for the Wildcats.

    Arizona finished each of it’s last two seasons with 40-plus wins – the first time in 13 years. With strong leadership from the few returning starters along with young talent, the Wildcats are determined to make it a third.

    “”I don’t think talent is a question,”” said catcher Dwight Childs. “”I think the mental game is more a question with these younger kids and as an older player who’s been here for a couple years it’s my responsibility to kind of reel these kids in mentally.

    “”As a group of older guys like myself, (third baseman) Brad Glenn and (outfielder) Hunter Pace,”” Childs added, “”I think we’ve done a pretty good job with that so far.””

    Despite the significant personnel difference in Arizona’s clubhouse this season, some players feel there is a new sense of camaraderie amongst the team. Due to the smaller group of veterans returning and their commitment to hurrying the freshman through their growing pains, the result has thus far been rather positive.

    “”I think this team is meshing a little bit more than it was last year,”” said second baseman Mike Weldon. “”Last year it just seemed like everything was going to be easier because of how much talent we had. But this year all of us are better friends on and off the field and I think that’ll pay off when the season gets started.””

    While various freshman and junior college transfers may have been thrown into the spotlight early this season, it will be nothing new for Arizona as Lopez has never shied away from letting the less-experienced get their shot.

    Last season, the Wildcats saw freshmen win starting spots at shortstop and left field while several others served as major contributors throughout the season. This year, those players will be looked upon as leaders despite their sophomore status.

    One of those players, shortstop Bryce Ortega, said the team’s low profile this season could actually turn out to be a blessing for the Wildcats in the long term.

    “”Last year at the beginning of the season there were a lot of expectations,”” Ortega said. “”I wasn’t used to it and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. But this year I feel like we’re more relaxed and I think if we play our game, the rankings and all of that will take care of itself.””

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