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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Baseball opens much anticipated season

    Arizona shortstop Robert Abel fields a chopper in a practice session at Sanset Stadium this week. The top-ranked Wildcats open up their season tonight at Georgia.
    Arizona shortstop Robert Abel fields a chopper in a practice session at Sanset Stadium this week. The top-ranked Wildcats open up their season tonight at Georgia.

    Prior to Wednesday’s workout, Arizona baseball players rotated through the cage during the team’s routine batting practice. Meanwhile the coaching staff freely exchanged jokes along with the players who casually made their way onto the field.

    The light, carefree feel made it hard to believe the team was only two days away from its much-anticipated season opener to defend its No. 1 ranking.

    Arizona opens its season with a three-game series against Georgia beginning today at 3 p.m. in Athens, Ga. The Wildcats will send ace Preston Guilmet to the hill for today’s opener while

    David Coulon and Ryan Perry will start Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

    “”I think it’s more just being anxious to get out there and play,”” head coach Andy Lopez said of his team’s relaxed demeanor. “”We’ve been working out since January, so I’m sure all the guys are ready to go. I know I am.””

    Although the team enters the season with two national No. 1 rankings as well as being picked to win the Pacific 10 Conference by the coaches, no signs of opening day nerves
    appeared present in the team’s final tune up before embarking on its first trip of the season.

    While the Wildcats find themselves one of the most hyped teams entering the season, the prospect of getting the chance to finally establish themselves is not the only reason many players are so excited for the season to begin.

    “”Frankly, we’re just sick of playing each other,”” left fielder Hunter Pace said. “”It’s kind of getting to the point where we need to see different faces.

    “”It’s gonna be nice to take it out on someone else.””

    In addition to simply wanting new opponents, Arizona has another reason to take it to Georgia this weekend: revenge.

    The last time the two teams met in Omaha during the 2004 College World Series when the Bulldogs defeated Arizona twice in the tournament, eliminating them from contention.

    With these two meetings being the only ones between the teams, Lopez said he will refer back to his experience in the Southeastern Conference as the head coach of Florida to scout Georgia.

    “”I was in (the SEC) for seven years and I know their coach very well,”” Lopez said. “”So I know they’re a very good team and they have some very good athletes.

    “”They were down last year but they were young. So they’ll definitely be a good challenge for us.””

    The Wildcats feel they will be ready for the challenge as they will open the season with a lineup full of veterans. Only one player, third baseman Dillon Baird – a transfer from Yavapai Junior College – did not play in at least 30 games last season.

    Arguably the biggest weapon in Arizona’s lineup is first baseman C.J. Ziegler. After playing much of last season as a designated hitter, the senior returns to the field to help the team with his glove as well as his bat.

    “”I’m feeling very comfortable,”” Ziegler said of playing at first base. “”That’s where I’ve been playing my whole life pretty much and there’s nothing like playing first base for a Division I baseball team; especially the No. 1 ranked team in the country.””

    While Arizona will benefit from his defense, it is Ziegler’s performance at the plate that has most opponents’ attention. Last season Ziegler finished with a .355 batting average along with a .645 slugging percentage – second only to outfielder Bill Rhinehart.

    Other than Ziegler, Arizona’s lineup includes five other players who finished 2007 with batting average over .300.

    History is also on the Wildcats side during this opening weekend. Arizona has won each of its last 13 opening weekend series, and dating back to 1994, the Wildcats have only dropped one opening day game, coming in 2003 to BYU. Despite the history, Lopez said he felt no added pressure to take the opening series.

    “”With this particular group I don’t think (a loss) is going to be earth-shattering,”” Lopez said. “”This is an older group and they understand what 56 games encompasses.

    “”But don’t get me wrong if they’re keeping score you want to go out there and play well and I think we will do just that.””

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