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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona baseball is ‘new team’ in ‘new year’

UA+Baseball+vs+Portland+3.9.15
Savannah Douglas
UA Baseball vs Portland 3.9.15

There’s a saying sports teams like to use: “New year, new team.” If one talks about Arizona baseball, one can agree that this year, it’s a new team.

Arizona hits Pac-12 Conference play this weekend holding on to a 15-4 record. Last season, the Wildcats had a 10-9 record when they faced Washington State for their first conference game and dropped the series 1-2.

“They have tangibles this season; last year, the tangibles weren’t there,” Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez said.

Tangibles are important but so is talent. This season, there are three new key players on the starting lineup for Arizona. J.J. Matijevic, Jared Oliva and Justin Behnke have helped the team defensively and offensively.

Behnke is a junior college transfer and is hitting .375, putting himself in the top three batting averages for Arizona. Maybe that was Arizona’s best addition — a guy who played two years of JUCO baseball, instead of freshmen who step on to the college field freshly out of high school.

Not to take anything away from the freshmen, but it was Behnke who gave Arizona some television time with an appearance on the SportsCenter Top 10 plays, garnering the No. 1 play on the list after a crazy catch while Arizona was on the road facing Mississippi State.

If we talk Pac-12, Arizona is ranked fifth in the conference right now, before facing Utah, which is at the bottom of the list. If Arizona keeps playing the way it has been, it can easily sweep the first conference series of the season.

The second conference series shouldn’t be too tough, either, as the Wildcats face Stanford, which stands right above Utah in the Pac-12 standings.

If there is something Arizona needs to do, it’s take advantage of the first two conference series before facing Oregon and USC. The Trojans are at the top of the list with only one loss, and Oregon is second with two losses.

The Wildcats hold a six-game winning streak and have played 19 games in 24 days, making Arizona the Pac-12 school with the most games played.

Arizona’s hottest point so far this season has been its offense. Juniors Scott Kingery and Kevin Newman are Arizona’s offensive leaders, both in the top two spots, hitting more than .400.

But let’s not forget Bobby Dalbec. The sophomore leads the team in home runs, RBIs, is hitting .342 right now and is improving each day. Dalbec has three home runs and 20 RBIs on the season so far.

“[Dalbec] has a lot more maturity, understands the game a little bit more,” Lopez said. “I think he understands his role, who he is and what he’s supposed to do at the plate. I don’t think he’s all that consumed anymore with striking out.”

One thing’s for sure: Arizona is right where it should be going into conference play. The important thing now is to win the two upcoming series before the Wildcats’ schedule gets tougher.

Even then, with the offense doing its job and a little improvement on the pitching end, Arizona will be fine and will finish with a successful season. It’s no question this season is already better than last year’s. So, why not finish strong and end up where they want to be? Omaha, Neb.

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Follow Rose Aly Valenzuela on Twitter.

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