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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Baseball’s middle infield battle heats up

    Arizona freshman shortstop Bryce Ortega takes a hack in Tuesdays 6-5 win over Nevada-Las Vegas at Sancet Stadium. Ortega went 4-for-7 in the midweek series and put starting shortstop Robert Abels job in jeopardy.
    Arizona freshman shortstop Bryce Ortega takes a hack in Tuesday’s 6-5 win over Nevada-Las Vegas at Sancet Stadium. Ortega went 4-for-7 in the midweek series and put starting shortstop Robert Abel’s job in jeopardy.

    No. 1 Arizona vs. South Alabama

    The preseason hype around the No. 1 Arizona baseball team primarily focused on its highly anticipated pitching staff’s depth, from starters to relievers.

    And with a 7-1 record coming off two sweeps against Sacramento State and Nevada-Las Vegas, most fans would have predicted top-notch performances from starters Nos. 1-4, as Arizona heads into its first tournament tonight, the Whataburger Classic in Corpus Christi, Texas.

    The primary competition on the depth chart, however, has shifted further up the middle infield, to second base and shortstop.

    Tonight when the Wildcats begin their first of three games in the tournament, plenty of options give UA head coach Andy Lopez a chance to shuffle the middle infield around against South Alabama.

    “”I think competition is good within the program,”” Lopez said. “”It makes the program better, and based on the last two nights, there’s probably some competition at (shortstop and second base).””

    Impressed with infielders Mike Weldon and Bryce Ortega, Lopez granted both their first career starts in the UNLV midweek series.

    Freshman Ortega started at shortstop during Tuesday’s 6-5 win, adding not only a perfect 3-for-3 performance from the plate (one double, two singles and a walk), but an all-around performance by doing the intangibles such as running pickoff attempts and anchoring the defense, as Arizona shortstops do.

    Ortega, who finished the midweek series 4-for-7, received the nod at shortstop and started both UNLV games after Lopez put shortstop Robert Abel’s starting job in question, in an effort to cut down on Arizona’s 14 errors in its first six games.

    “”Bryce Ortega fielded all the plays and got a couple hits and executed a hit and run – those are the things that warm Coach Lopez’s heart,”” Lopez said. “”I like that.””

    Then came Wednesday’s 16-6 win, in which sophomore Weldon added another name to the middle infield shuffle after going 3-for-4 with a double, triple and five RBIs, along with solid defensive play from second base in his first career start.

    Although faced with the tough decision of who will start at second – Weldon or senior Colt Sedbrook, who is batting at a .385 clip – Lopez believes the competition will motivate both players.

    “”Mike’s had good numbers all through the year in terms of fall baseball and spring baseball. He’s really earned the chance to play,”” Lopez said. “”But Weldon is a solid player and will make Sedbrook a better player or he will take him out of the lineup.””

    Said Weldon on his role: “”To come in the game late and get a late (at-bat) and try to come in clutch, hopefully I can get a start in midweek games. If somebody goes down, you have to be able to come in and fill the role and be as good as the other guy.””

    Arizona has hit 17 home runs in eight games, with a .338 team batting average. Eleven players are hitting over the .300 mark and four have a slugging percentage of over 1.000.

    Leadoff left fielder Diallo Fon leads the team in batting average (.600), slugging percentage (1.400) and extra base hits (6).

    “”I think we can keep it going,”” said center fielder T.J. Steele on Arizona’s explosive offense. “”Everyone in our lineup is a tremendous player and if we stick with our game plan we’ll be fine.””

    This weekend’s tournament features a different team each day, with Arizona facing Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday and Notre Dame on Sunday.

    Despite the difficulty in facing new opposition each day, Lopez favors the early-season tournaments because of their postseason preparation aspect and would even like to add more to the schedule.

    “”I think it gets you ready for postseason play because no matter what happens Friday you have to come back Saturday against a different opponent,”” Lopez said. “”The other thing is it’s good for us coaches. We have some scouting on these teams but it’s good for us to see them with our own eyes and make adjustments.””

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