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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “‘Cats fight through rust, win 5-3”

    Friday night’s season opening 5-3 victory was not, by any means, a sharp effort. But a win is a win.

    “”It wasn’t an A+ night, but it was OK,”” UA head coach Andy Lope said after the game. “”It’s a good way to start the season.””

    Energy was in the air as the Wildcat faithful were eager to hear the first crack – or “”ping”” in this case – of the bat and welcome the 2009 season. A game under the lights against an inferior Sacramento State team with ace Preston Guilmet on the mound had all the makings of a quick, painless Arizona victory.

    However the fans were basically treated to an extended spring training game.

    Guilmet struggled to find the bite that normally comes with his breaking pitches and his fastball never strayed out of the 86-88 mph range, but with the help of some sharp double plays from his defense he was able to escape the first four innings with just 54 pitches.

    The right-hander struggled early in the fifth inning, surrendering a run on three hits, leading Lopez to turn to his bullpen. Guilmet – who was given a no decision – finished the evening with six strikeouts and two walks.

    Offensively Arizona (1-0) was dormant for the first three innings but exploded – thanks in large part to lucky bounces and poor defense by the Hornets – for five runs in the bottom of the third.

    Sophomore shortstop Bryce Ortega got things going with a lead off walk. He promptly stole second base to put him in scoring position and was brought around to score on sophomore center fielder Bobby Coyle’s double. Coyle would come full circle on a RBI single from freshman right fielder Steve Selsky.

    What happened next was, to say the least, bizarre.

    Junior first baseman Dillon Baird ripped a screaming line drive that ricocheted off of Hornets pitcher Jose Martinez. The left-hander would be forced to leave the game with an injury, forcing Sacramento State head coach John Smith to turn to right-handed reliever Brandon Sandoval.

    Sophomore designated hitter Matt Presley proceeded to rip the first pitch he saw up the box and, coincidentally, off of Sandoval’s back.

    “”I haven’t seen something like that in a really long time,”” Lopez said with a degree of surprise.

    Sandoval stayed in the game, but the damage was done as the Wildcats would not surrender the lead from that point on.

    The story for the game for the Wildcats, regardless of the final score, was that Arizona was sloppy.

    Guilmet was a meager shell of what he is capable of and the bats failed to deliver on apparent scoring opportunities. In addition to Guilmet, Preaseason All-American closer Jason Stoffel – the usually invincible one – surrendered a run on two hits.

    Sure, some of Guilmet’s ineffectiveness can be blamed on the crisp and, dare I say, cool air, but if Arizona wants to compete deep into the postseason then he will have to be much sharper.

    On the other side of the dish the offense had a case of “”almosts.”” Senior third baseman Brad Glenn, the teams’ most accomplished and feared hitter, hit three towering fly balls in his first three at-bats, but thery were caught on the warning track. Similarly to Glenn, Coyle hit a drive that had a chance to clear the wall, but was caught with inches to spare.

    “”We could swing it better,”” said junior catcher Dwight Childs. “”But you know what, getting the ‘W’ is pretty good.””

    Shutting ‘Em Down

    While the bridge to the 8th and 9th inning might take some figuring out, the Wildcats are in good hands with set-up man Corey Burns and closer Jason Stoffel.

    Burns was lights-out in his lone inning of work, striking out three. The right-handed senior showcased his elaborate windup and displayed excellent movement and velocity on his two-seam fastball, bringing the tailing pitch up to 90 mph. On top of that, he showed off a 70-mph curveball that had opposing batters spinning in the box.

    Stoffel, despite the first-outing jitters that plagued him against his first few hitters, was able to mix a 93-mph fastball with a 79-mph curveball that kept hitters off-guard. Stoffel struck out two batters to earn him his first save of the season.

    The save, his 19th of his career, passes former Wildcat Mark Melancon for most saves in school history.

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