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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Baseball’s train of thought on track

It would have been easy for the No. 17 Arizona (27-9, 8-5 Pacific 10 conference) baseball team to fold on Tuesday night on the road against No. 1 ASU.

There are so many emotions that go into playing an arch-rival. That, compounded with the game being in hostile Tempe with a roster of 17 players who were in high school last year, means it wouldn’t have been a surprise had the Wildcats lost handily.

To add another obstacle, Arizona’s scheduled starting pitcher, Cory Bernard, hurt his arm warming up minutes before the game.

Losing your starter like that can threaten a team’s psyche, and could have caused Arizona, a team that was already amped enough, to panic.

Looking into the dugout five minutes before the first pitch, it was as if nothing happened.

Every Wildcat was so calm, you would think they were about to play an intrasquad game in the fall.

This is not to say Arizona doesn’t care — well, actually it is.

But it’s a different kind of carelessness, one that allows the Wildcats to never be phased by any curveball thrown their way.

Arizona went on to play a crisp nine-inning game, with no errors, clutch pitching and huge defensive plays when the pressure was on.

What Arizona has is exactly what a young team that wants to succeed needs: Ignorance.

The Wildcats could care less about the opponent’s ranking, or uniform or the statistics of the other team’s best players.

All the Wildcats care about is what’s going on between the lines for 27 outs, and the calm, cool and collected feeling that you sense around Arizona begins with the veterans.

Take Tuesday’s starting pitcher, redshirt junior Daniel Workman, who hadn’t pitched in a game since March 23.

Twenty minutes before the game, head coach Andy Lopez summoned Workman to replace Bernard and pitch against one of the Pac-10’s best offenses.

“”Personally, I’m one to who likes to know ahead of time if I’m starting,”” Workman said of the circumstance. “”It was just one of those things where you just get going and do it. I really wasn’t thinking. I was just kind of going after it.””

The right-hander went on to throw 6 1/3 innings dominant innings, giving up just five hits and setting down the final 12 hitters he faced in order.

In Workman, you can see the attitude of Arizona’s team: win no matter what.

Jett Bandy, Rafael Valenzuela, Bryce Ortega, Kyle Simon and Steve Selsky are all veterans who have established the vibe of muting everything off the field, and keeping it as simple as possible on it.

“”I think the older guys keeping everybody poised was the bigger thing,”” Workman added.

You could see the composure in certain situations on Tuesday.

In the eighth inning with Arizona gripping a 4-2 lead, ASU loaded the bases with one out for its cleanup hitter. With fans at ASU’s Packard Stadium doing their best to unnerve sophomore pitcher Bryce Bandilla, the pressure situation yielded a veteran result, as Arizona escaped the inning unscathed.

Or in the bottom of the ninth, when freshman shortstop Alex Mejia went all or nothing on a barehanded play by throwing off-balance to nail the runner, and soon after dove to his left to snare a line drive that would have put runners at first and third for ASU.

Both were huge situations where underclassmen stepped up, but no one seemed surprised, implying it’s their job to make those plays, whether it be a freshman or a senior.

With another big series this weekend against No. 6 UCLA, Arizona seems to have found the ability to roll with every punch thrown its way.

— Michael Fitzsimmons is a sophomore majoring in English. He can be reached

at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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