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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Frosh duo sparks UA

    Arizona shortstop Bryce Ortega runs down designated hitter Brian Oliver in a 7-6 win over Indiana State at Sancet Stadium on April 13. Ortega, a true freshman, is the only starting Wildcat in his class.
    Arizona shortstop Bryce Ortega runs down designated hitter Brian Oliver in a 7-6 win over Indiana State at Sancet Stadium on April 13. Ortega, a true freshman, is the only starting Wildcat in his class.

    No. 23 Arizona vs. New Mexico

    Last time the No. 23 Arizona baseball team played a mid-week home series, shortstop Bryce Ortega debuted in his first career start.

    Six weeks after the March 4 win over Nevada-Las Vegas, the true freshman has not only impressed UA head coach Andy Lopez, but also solidified a starting position at shortstop.

    At one of baseball’s most critical defensive spots, Ortega starts as the only freshman among two seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and a redshirt sophomore.

    “”Early on in the year I was a little surprised (at his play) but now it’s more of a thing where we just expect him to play good baseball,”” Lopez said. “”He’s a good player; he does some very sound things.””

    Both offensively and defensively, the Palos Verdes, Calif., native has played consistently throughout a mix of non-conference and Pacific 10 Conference series. Before last weekend’s sweep of Washington State, Ortega hit .338 with one hit in 19 of 23 starts, adding five doubles and 15 runs scored in 24 games played.

    In Saturday and Sunday’s wins over WSU, Ortega tallied a combined 5-for-6 performance from the plate.

    “”He’s doing a really good job in terms of executing the game,”” Lopez said. “”In this realm you don’t see too many seniors with so many leaving early so you do play a lot of freshmen early.

    “”Some guys produce and do things like Bryce Ortega, other guys scuffle and have normal freshman years,”” Lopez said.

    Added Ortega: “”I always knew I could play at this level and I’ve learned a lot from the fall. I’ve always been confident and that’s what I try to bring to the field.””

    But while he provides the bottom half of the batting order with depth at the No. 8 spot, Ortega solidifies an Arizona defense that overcame early-season infield struggles.

    In 115 chances, Ortega committed only five errors and turned 13 of Arizona’s 24 double plays. Without Ortega, the Wildcats
    committed five errors in 35 chances at shortstop.

    Beginning the season with a 15-11 record, Arizona committed an astounding 51 errors through its first 26 games. Such a stretch of defensive miscues prompted Lopez to shuffle the lineup numerous times, using eight different starters to fill the infield this season.

    But amid their current 10-game winning streak, the Wildcats defense cut down to seven errors during that stretch.

    “”I feel relaxed at shortstop but every night you have to play well because there’s a lot of talent on the bench,”” Ortega said.

    Ortega’s precedent leads fellow freshman Bobby Coyle down the same path of opportunity.

    In Sunday’s comeback, Coyle came through clutch with a RBI single that broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning. He finished the game 3-for-4, improving the West Hills, Calif., native’s batting average to .388.

    “”To see freshmen like Coyle and Ortega continue to hit well in Pac-10 games, it speaks well for our future,”” Lopez said.

    Added Coyle: “”Everyone on the team can flat out play. We are just trying to take it one game at a time.””

    Extra bases

    Arizona’s two-week span of being unranked is over after going 5-0 for the second consecutive week. Baseball America puts the Wildcats at No. 23, while Rivals.com ranks them at the No. 20 spot.

    – Bobby Stover contributed reporting

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