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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball team looks to continue momentum into weekend series against Cal

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Megan Ewing

Arizona infielder Nik McClaughry hits the ball against the opposing Arizona State pitcher on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz. 

The Arizona baseball team is coming off three wins over Arizona State in four games this past week. They have really seemed to hit their stride as of late in all phases of the game at the right time, winning back-to-back series over the Sun Devils and Oregon. 

Freshman pitcher Chandler Murphy got the Wildcats off to a tremendous start in the three-game series down in Tempe, tossing five no-hit innings to help carry the Wildcats to a win last Thursday, April 1 against the Sun Devils. After starting the season off in the starting rotation, Murphy has slowly transitioned more to a long relief role out of the bullpen. Head coach Jay Johnson believes Murphy handled this transition as well as he could have. 

“I mean [Murphy] is a competitor,” Johnson said. “He is a winner. I think he would love to pitch a complete game every time he pitches. I’m sure he would love to pitch in every game if that was something that you could do in baseball. I think I saw a big shift in how he approached things and how he worked within the last week, and the outing against Arizona State was not a surprise to me. He pitched with great tempo. He has great pitch ability.”

“I have a good friend that’s a very good pitching person in professional baseball that has watched some of our games, last year and this year,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Hey, that’s going to be your best guy at some point,’ and he sure pitched like that last weekend. I think if he continues to prepare and do the things that he can control at a high level, we’re going to win a lot of games with [Murphy] on the mound.”

Johnson recalled to the time he recruited Murphy. It was a very competitive process, but Johnson was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that Murphy committed to play for the Wildcats.

“It was very competitive,” Johnson said. “He probably heard from me a lot more than a 15 or 16-year-old wants to. There was just something that I was always drawn to about [Murphy] in terms of his pitch ability. He was always a winner, always collected a lot of outs, loved his demeanor, his disposition on the mound and I really felt like he would be a high-level starting pitcher and impactful to our program. Honestly, at one point, I was like we’re not going to get him and literally made a switch in my mind of like there is no way I’m letting this guy go anywhere else.”

Murphy remembered a time during his recruitment process when it was late, and he and his father were trying to get back home to Phoenix, but Johnson was persistent in him providing an answer that he was looking for. 

“I remember him talking to me, and as he said before, he said that he wouldn’t let me leave,” Murphy said with a smile on his face. “I remember that time, and we were trying to get back home because Phoenix is about a two-hour drive, so it was kind of getting late. And he kept talking to us and kept talking to us, and obviously, that stood out to me just to see how much he wanted me.” 

The Wildcats bullpen as a whole stepped up in a huge way these past four games against the Sun Devils, combining to allow just one run across 19 innings pitched. 

RELATED: Three key stats from Arizona baseball team’s win over Arizona State

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats offense continues to excel. Donta’ Williams is one of the veterans in this Arizona lineup. After hitting .348 in 15 games last season, he is off to a bit of a slower start this season hitting .290 through 26 games. However, he has found other ways to get on base which includes getting hit by a pitch 12 times and drawing 19 walks. Williams, who leads the Pac-12 conference in runs scored this year with 38 of them, said that when he gets on base, he has full confidence that his teammates will drive him home. 

“I get on base, and I have all the confidence in the world whoever is behind me will get me into score,” Williams said. “It is just kind of like in my head, I’m like, the pitcher, don’t throw that pitch because it’s not going to be good for you, so it is just cool knowing that my teammates have my back, and they are just unbelievable players, and I’m just glad to be on this team.”

Looking towards this weekend, the Wildcats host a three-game series at Hi Corbett against Cal, who find themselves just ahead of Arizona in the Pac-12 standings entering this series. Johnson had shown nothing but praise for this Golden Bears team and believes that the stats don’t show you how good they are as a team. 

“I think they’re a good team,” Johnson said. “I think they’re arguably the best team that we’ve played in terms of looking at them from a preparation standpoint. I think they have very good starting pitching. I think they have a good lineup. They are very aggressive. They have guys who hit the ball for power, hit the ball for average. They look like they play with a lot of confidence to me, so this is going to be a good test. This is going to be a good weekend. I hope when we turn and look at the end of this thing, I think you’ll see two teams that have a chance to have really successful years.”

The Wildcats open up this home series against Cal on Friday, April 9 with the first pitch currently scheduled for 6 p.m. MST.  


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