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The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball’s Brandon Dixon an offensive hero

Tyler+Baker++%2F++Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AUA+Baseball+lost+9-2+to+San+Francisco+Sunday+afternoon.+The+Cats+won+the+series+overall+2-1.
Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Baseball lost 9-2 to San Francisco Sunday afternoon. The Cats won the series overall 2-1.

Arizona’s late-game defensive replacement in 2012, Brandon Dixon, is no longer a substitute.

It’s no surprise to Dixon himself, but the starting junior third baseman is an offensive monster. And it all began in his final at-bat of the 2012 season.

“If you have a moment like that, it better boost your confidence,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said. “Dixon is a great kid who works extremely hard. I was so happy for him to take advantage of that moment.”

Dixon’s moment came with one out in the top of the ninth and two runners on in a tied game two of the NCAA baseball College World Series. The unlikely offensive hero hooked a ground ball just inside the third baseline for a go-ahead RBI double against one of the greatest college baseball closers of all time, South Carolina’s Matt Price. The go-ahead run gave the Wildcats a 2-1 lead and sparked two more runs from Arizona, which went on to win the World Series in the next half-inning.

“I was just happy to finally get the opportunity,” Dixon said, looking back on the title-winning hit with a smile. “Walking up to the plate, you got to think of it as any other at-bat, but it was nice to get an opportunity like that and help the team out with my bat, which was something I didn’t really get the chance to do during the year.”

Up until his final plate appearance in the World Series, Dixon was not much of an offensive threat in 2012. In many Arizona offensive statistical categories, the then-sophomore was at the bottom, with a team-low .245 batting average.

Less than a calendar year later, the Wildcats’ new third baseman leads his team in most offensive categories, and he leads the Pac-12 conference, too.

“He got that LASIK eye surgery over the summer,” Lopez said. “I think it’s really done a lot with his hitting and seeing the pitches.”

Since fixing his vision, the now-everyday starter leads the Pac-12 conference in stolen bases, total bases, runs scored and hits, and boasts a team-high .413 batting average. Dixon is also third in RBI, eight behind fellow teammate Trent Gilbert.

Dixon’s success might be a surprise to some Wildcat fans, but it hasn’t surprised Lopez or Dixon. Although he struggled to find playing time his first two years, Dixon says he always believed that he could come through once given the opportunity.

Lopez says he has been impressed with Dixon’s work ethic since he joined the program as a freshman in 2010, but neither Lopez nor Dixon denies that the eye surgery has been the biggest improvement over the offseason.

“[Eye surgery] was something my dad suggested and helped me out to get,” Dixon said. ”It kind of just all fit together with the timing during the summer. I can see pitches more clear now. Last year my contacts used to get dry during at-bats, but now my vision is perfect nonstop.”

As for the World Series-winning RBI double, Dixon said he doesn’t believe he ever lacked confidence, but it was something he could build off of going into the 2013 season.

“I knew coming into this season I was going to be a starter and was going to be needed to produce,” Dixon said. “I don’t think the hit established that I had ‘arrived’ or anything, but more gave me something to show — that I can produce runs and help the team. You kind of have to start somewhere. It just happened mine was in the World Series.”

As the Wildcats approach the halfway point of their season, they will continue to lean heavily on more seasoned players like Dixon, who can be counted on to produce runs.

A defending national champion team that lost six starters and was notorious for clutch execution is now searching for their replacements, and Dixon appears to be one of them.

“It was a great feeling to go through all those struggles and get an opportunity like that,” Dixon said. “The whole ride was an amazing experience.”

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