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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Baseball looks to snap non-conference woes with weekend series

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Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat Baseball vs UCLA

The No. 11 Arizona baseball team starts a three-game series today against East Tennessee State in the Wildcats’ last regular-season game against a non-Pac-12 team this season.

But even though the Pac-12 is one of the strongest conferences in the country, it has been the non-conference games that have given the Wildcats more trouble this year.

Arizona (26-13, 12-6 Pac-12) has lost all four of its non-conference games since the Pac-12 season started March 16, and five of its last six altogether.

“All we can do is just learn from our past,” sophomore Johnny Field said. “Learn that we can’t go into these non-conference games and take anyone lightly. We have to go in like it’s a regular Pac-12 Conference (game) and do what we got to do.”

Fortunately for Arizona, it’ll be a weekend series against East Tennessee State (19-21), and it’s been the midweek games where the Wildcats have mainly tripped up.

Arizona will be able to send out its usual starting rotation, including Friday starter Kurt Heyer.
Heyer is 4-0 this season in non-conference games and said he knows not to take the Buccaneers lightly.

“It’s just another outing, it’s just another opponent,” Heyer said. “It doesn’t really matter who we’re facing, I still have to make my pitches. I can’t underestimate these guys because they’re probably going to come in here hungry. If I let my guard down a little then they could pounce on me a little bit. I just have to keep the same mentality.”

While the Wildcats will be able to send out most of their everyday players this weekend, there is a chance one of the usual suspects will be absent in center field.

In last Sunday’s game against Washington, junior Joey Rickard sat on the bench with a bone bruise on his knee.

This was the first time in 157 games that Rickard wasn’t playing for the Wildcats, and he may have to wait until next weekend to start a new streak.

Head coach Andy Lopez said nothing was damaged too severely in the knee. Team doctors said Tuesday that Rickard could be available against East Tennessee State. Lopez said that if Rickard isn’t 100 percent, then he won’t play this weekend.

With Rickard injured and Arizona in a little slump — the team has lost four of its last six games against Pac-12 teams — Lopez said the break from the conference schedule couldn’t have come at a better time.

But beyond that, the Wildcats have an even more pressing and long-term concern that Lopez hopes this weekend can begin to repair — the performance of closer Mathew Troupe.

The freshman had been one of the few dependable arms out of the pen, but after blowing two saves in his last two appearances, Lopez said it is imperative to get him back to his earlier form.

“Troupe’s had two rough outings, but like I told him, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that happens in life, you have a great life ahead of you,’” Lopez said.

With an already struggling bullpen, Arizona needs to get one of its better pitchers back into form as the Pac-12 season winds down.

But so far for Lopez, one of the best remedies for the bullpen has been the ability of the three weekend starters to pitch deep into the games.

“You don’t have to worry about your bullpen if your starters are going seven, eight (or) nine,” Lopez said.

Heyer said he doesn’t let the struggles of the bullpen affect his approach on the mound. But even if he does need their help, Heyer isn’t concerned about his security net having a couple holes in it.

“If something does happen, I have all the trust in the world in them,” Heyer said. “I know that they’re struggling a little bit right now, but they’re going to battle through it. These guys are tough enough to do it.”

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