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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball matchup against Stanford matches up pair of conference’s top units

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A battle of heavyweights is scheduled to take place this weekend, as the top-ranked offense in the Pac-12 Conference, No. 8 Arizona, goes up against the conference’s best pitching staff, No. 2 Stanford.

“It’s big-on-big,” junior Rob Refsnyder said. “That’s what you come to Arizona for.”

Stanford’s 2.58 ERA is the best in the conference, and the Cardinal held opponents to a .203 batting average. But the Arizona offense has quietly asserted itself as a powerhouse, resulting in an early season battle for supremacy between the conference’s two best units.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing where we stack up against the best in the country,” Refsnyder said.

Despite Arizona’s lack of power and its reliance on small ball, the Wildcats have put up good numbers so far this season, leading the Pac-12 in batting average (.322), runs scored (178), and stolen bases (44).

Arizona’s success has stemmed from an entire group effort on the offensive end, led mostly by a group of junior leaders — Refsnyder, Alex Mejia, Joey Rickard and Seth Mejias-Brean.

Refsnyder has been the most consistent source of offense, leading the team with a .398 batting average and a .487 on-base percentage — ranking fourth and fifth in the Pac-12, respectively — but he’s just one of several of the players hitting the ball well this season.

Six Wildcats are hitting above .315, and Arizona has players in the top-10 of most major offensive categories in the Pac-12, with the one major exception being home runs.

However, Stanford is bringing something to the fight the Wildcat juniors have yet to figure out: the top-rated pitching prospect in the country.

Stanford Friday starter Mark Appel is projected to be a top-two pick in the 2012 MLB draft and head coach Andy Lopez said the Stanford pitcher is worthy of that distinction.

While Appel hasn’t been lights-out so far this season — he is 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA — he has shut down the Wildcats during his impressive career, especially the last time they faced each other.

Appel pitched eight scoreless innings and struck out nine Wildcats in an eventual 1-0 Stanford victory.

This time around, Lopez said the offense needs to simply avoid strikeouts, make contact and put the ball into play if it wants to be successful against Appel and the rest of the talented pitching rotation.

“Hopefully we can do that and make it interesting against that staff,” Lopez said.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, this small-ball attack against Stanford won’t be anything different than they’ve been doing all season.

Since Arizona’s move from Frank Sancet Stadium to the much larger Hi Corbett Field, the team has had to adjust to playing for base hits and steals rather than home runs.

“Last year, I hit six home runs and all the guys are joking that I don’t have any (this season),” Refsnyder said. “Hi Corbett is such a big park and I could have been stubborn and tried to go for the long ball and extra-base hits, but obviously my average would drop.”

This change in mentality is constantly beaten into players by the coaching staff, even during warm-up batting practice at a mid-week practice.

While Lopez is pitching to the players, he’ll immediately remind the players that their fly ball hit is an easy out at Hi Corbett Field.

“We can run and we manufacture runs that way, not (with) the long ball,” Refsnyder said.

The Wildcats’ small-ball approach has been even more effective because of the ability to run the bases well.

Rickard is tied for the lead in the Pac-12 with nine stolen bases and nine doubles and tied for second with three triples.

“Put the ball in play,” Refsnyder said, “and good things will happen.”

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