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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Baseball to face No. 1 ASU

It has been a roller coaster ride of a season for the No. 17 Arizona baseball team.

After a so-so start, the young Wildcats (26-9, 7-5 Pacific 10 Conference) won 15 straight games in dominant fashion, garnering national media attention and vaulting into every major collegiate poll.

Questions arose, though, after a four-game losing streak and a lackluster series in which they were swept on the road by California. Would the young Arizona team bounce back?

After taking care of Washington and Gonzaga on the road, and fresh off an exciting sweep of Washington State, the answer has proven to be yes.

But there will always be questions about a team with 17 freshmen and only two seniors, no matter how legitimate the Wildcats appear. And the most recent question is how all of the new faces will handle the intensity of playing No. 1 ASU tonight at 6:30 in Tempe.

“”It’s hard to say because they weren’t here. The guys we play on a regular basis, they were in high school last year,”” said head coach Andy Lopez. “”I’m curious to see, I’m curious to see how they go up there and handle the rivalry.””

If the Wildcats needed more motivation beside the rivalry with ASU (31-3, 9-3 Pac-10), the Sun Devils are the No. 1 team in the Pac-10 and the country, and Arizona went 0-5 last season against its foe to the north.

So while some Wildcat players might be feeling butterflies, senior Rafael Valenzuela offered some words of wisdom to his teammates experiencing the rivalry for the first time.

“”Take it like another game,”” Valenzuela said. “”It is ASU, it’s up at ASU, you know we’re going to have a big, big crowd. We’ve just got to slow the game down and do the simple things and take it like another game.””

Arizona is likely to play in front of its largest crowd of the season, as Packard Stadium can expect a full house for a rivalry game.

Valenzuela’s response to the inevitable hecklers? Ignore them.

“”I just try to ignore it as much as possible,”” said the senior first baseman. “”The crowd’s always going to be there, just trying to heckle the whole time. I just try to zone everything out, get in my zone and play the ball game.””

It will be difficult to take much more than bragging rights from tonight’s one-game matchup between the two teams, as both the UA and ASU’s starting pitchers will be out of the bullpen, rather than handing the ball to a weekend rotation guy.

However, Lopez will be able to gauge the emotions of his team and see how the result of the game affects the Wildcats.

“”I know what they’ve done baseball-wise, but will they be too high, or a little tight? We’ll find out,”” Lopez said.

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