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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Ortega’s back

Annie Marum / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Baseball vs. South Dakota St- 2.18
Annie Marum
Annie Marum / Arizona Daily Wildcat Baseball vs. South Dakota St- 2.18

When Bryce Ortega went down with herniated L4 and L5 discs in his back in March of last year, Arizona head coach Andy Lopez knew it would negatively impact the baseball team.

He just didn’t know how much.

“”He’s about as important a cog as we have,”” Lopez said. “”You have to have that pivot man at second base. We were on pace to break all of the records for double plays turned here at the program. Once he went out, we made less than half, I think.””

But in addition to missing some double play opportunities, the possible consequences were much graver.

In fact, Ortega, who Lopez credited as the bridge between an abysmal 2009 season and a successful 2010 campaign, was in jeopardy of never playing again.

But here we are in 2011, and things seem back to normal.

“”Everything feels great,”” Ortega said.

The second baseman didn’t wait long to remind Lopez what he means to the Wildcats, ranked No. 17 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll.

In the season’s first series last weekend, Ortega went 3-for-9 at the plate while driving in four runs and scoring five more himself. He also started a double play in the seventh inning of Friday’s win to keep ace Kurt Heyer’s shutout intact.

“”I’m just trying to bring back the good old days with me and (short stop) Alex (Mejia) turning some double plays,”” Ortega said. “”Hopefully there’s a lot more of those.””

Ortega said that there weren’t any nerves while playing in his first game in about 10 months, but that wasn’t the case when he first got back to practicing.

“”The first scrimmage was the big deal, when I had to face live arms for the first time,”” Ortega said. “”I’ve had several scrimmages and taken a lot of hacks, so now it’s just about playing baseball again.””

Ortega wasn’t the only one with nerves during his first scrimmage back in action — the senior from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., gave everyone a scare, including Lopez.

“”His first official at-bat in intrasquad, he hit a triple in the gap,”” Lopez said. “”He ran it out, slid in to third, and then popped back up. Everybody held their breath for a minute, but then we moved on.””

While Lopez is happy to have his second baseman back, no one is happier than Heyer, who now has one of the top double play tandems in America playing behind him.

“”He always gets us pumped up for the game. He’s like that guy you want behind you in everything,”” said Heyer when asked about Ortega’s impact on the team.

“”He’s got ice in his veins, man. He’s got everything you want. It’s just good to have him back.””

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