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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

COMMENTARY: Comeback win proves new-look Wildcats

When Arizona freshman reliever Nick Cunningham allowed Washington State to turn a one-run deficit into a two-run lead in the top of the eighth inning on Sunday, it would have been easy for the Wildcats (26-9, 7-5 Pacific 10 Conference) to throw in the towel. 

When the Cougars (19-14, 3-6) extended their lead to three in the top of the ninth, the Wildcats could have been satisfied taking two of three games from the Cougars.

But not this Arizona team.

Instead, sophomore catcher Jett Bandy led a charge of cheers and fist pumps from the dugout, fueling a four-run comeback victory.

“”You’ve got to be pumped,”” Bandy said, “”and I was just trying to set the tone for the bench.””

The entire team, from relief pitchers to power hitters, leaned outside the dugout and continually exploded with cheers and encouragement as if to tell the batter, “”We’re in this together.””

“”Unbelievable, man, unbelievable,”” senior Rafael Valenzuela, who delivered the game-winning single, said of the mood in the dugout during the rally.

After Valenzuela’s hit dropped in front of the WSU left fielder, the Arizona bench went crazy, storming the field in endless celebration.

The team’s togetherness and never-quit attitude has been evident in this group of 17 freshmen and 23 underclassmen since the moment Kurt Heyer hurled the first pitch of the season against Utah Valley University on Feb. 19.

That attitude and camaraderie is the exact ingredient missing in the talented 2009 Wildcats team, which failed to make the postseason.

“”Last year, after the ninth inning, people would have been down,”” Valenzuela said.

Sunday’s 12-11 comeback-win was a direct parallel to the identity of the new-look Wildcats.

“”(This group is) just a bunch of guys that never give up,”” Valenzuela said. “”They play hard every inning.””

The Wildcats simply willed their way to victory, a rare characteristic for such a young group. They are 3-0 in extra-inning games, and 6-2 in games decided by one run, further proving their relentlessness.

“”Not one guy here doesn’t want to win,”” Bandy said. “”Every guy out here wants to win so bad. It’s just a great team to be around.””

Last year’s team was a group of individuals playing for stats rather than wins. But the 2010 youthful Wildcats have changed the entire mindset of Arizona baseball.

The difference is so drastic that when head coach Andy Lopez was asked to compare the two teams he jokingly said, “”Well what’s the difference between red and yellow, night and day, good and bad, right and wrong, being alive or dead?””

That’s how severely these youngsters have changed the identity of Arizona baseball.

They never throw in the towel and are the epitome of a team, both of which were on display Sunday.

The Wildcats may not be the most dominant team in the Pacific 10 Conference, but win or lose, the effort will be there.

Win or lose, they will do so as a team.

And those are the exact reasons the Pac-10’s youngest team continues to perform like a group of veterans.

— Mike Schmitz is a business-marketing sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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