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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Baseball aims to keep winning streak alive

Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona baseball will put its 11-game winning streak to the test tonight when New Mexico comes to Tucson for a two-game series at Sancet Stadium.

The first pitch, set for 6 p.m., will mark the beginning of the end of a string of non-conference games for the Wildcats (16-4), with Pacific 10 Conference play beginning Friday against Oregon.

For head coach Andy Lopez, the series with the Lobos (14-7) is one last opportunity to tie up any loose ends on the roster before the heavy lifting begins.

“”I like the way they’re going about it. They’re playing well,”” Lopez said. “”Are there areas that we need to improve on? Without a doubt. There are small areas that need to be tightened up a little bit.””

Lopez expanded on the need to solidify the starting pitching rotation. Freshman Kurt Heyer has taken on the role of the ace of the pitching staff by pitching to a 3-0 record with a 2.10 ERA.

But the Saturday and Sunday starting spots remain uncertain, with sophomores Kyle Simon and Bryce Bandilla being the leading candidates to round out the rotation.

The closer spot still has a “”vacant”” sign as well, with the freshman duo of Nick Cunningham and Tyler Hale still battling to overtake the job of closing out games.

“”If you asked me, ‘what are the things you’d like to see fixed quickly?’ I would say the two guys at the back end (of the bullpen) getting a little more consistent,”” Lopez said, “”and to get our starting rotation really consistent and solid. Kurt Heyer has been, but in regards to Bandilla and Simon.””

“”I’ve always had a closer wherever I’ve been,”” Lopez added. “”And right now we have two young guys who are taking their shot at it, both Hale and Cunningham. We’ll be patient with them. They’re young guys, and they’re kind of in a different realm right now in terms of closing at the Division 1 level.””

In spite of the ups and downs on the pitching staff, Arizona has been burying opponents of late with a barrage of offense. The average margin of victory has been just over eight runs during the winning streak.

With a 4-for-4 day at the plate on Sunday, Jett Bandy raised his average to a Pac-10 best .506, while Steve Selsky and Robert Refsnyder complete a daunting trio in the middle of the Arizona order with .438 and .458 batting averages, respectively.

As the pitching staff continues to iron out its wrinkles, the offensive consistency has elevated the Wildcats into one of the most potent offenses in the conference.

“”Without a dominant pitching staff, and I don’t think we have a dominant pitching staff to this day, obviously that means you’ve got to score some runs, which means we have to stay consistent with our offense,”” Lopez said.

The Lobos will pose a threat to end Arizona’s run, having taken two out of three from the 2009 NCAA runner-up Texas Longhorns earlier this season.

Lopez mentioned that he and the New Mexico coach, Ray Birmingham, are good friends who like to talk baseball and share ideas about their teams.

But when the first pitch is thrown, Lopez said, “”We’re trying to beat each other’s brains out.””

“”We’ve got to be ready to go and do that for the next couple of nights to get ready for Pac-10 play.””

 

‘Cats step into national spotlight

Arizona’s 11-game winning streak hasn’t gone unnoticed by college baseball writers around the country, with Arizona appearing at No. 19 in the Collegiate Baseball poll on Monday. Lopez was pleased to see his team rewarded for its play, but told Wildcat players there was still a lot of work left to do.

“”It’s nice, they deserve to be recognized,”” said Lopez. “”But I tell our guys, don’t worry about the rankings. The rankings will do you good at the end of the season when you’re one of eight teams in Omaha.””

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