Forty-one days was the amount of time the Arizona baseball team had to wait until it hit the road for the first time last season, this year the wait was seven, and that may not have been long enough.
The No. 18 Wildcats (3-0) will face Long Beach State (1-3) in what will be a rematch from last season, where the Dirtbags took the first two games from Arizona before the finale was canceled do to a rain out.
"Man this Long Beach series is huge, it's about five minutes away from where I live, said Kyle Simon. "We as a school have also had a rivalry with them for a while now, going back to last year and even in postseason play, no doubt we want this series bad."
The Long Beach State/ Arizona rivalry is indeed one of the more underrated west coast rivalries in college baseball, with the all-time series being tied at 19 wins a piece for each side. Before last season, the last time these two schools was in the 2004 Super Regional where the Wildcats beat Long Beach State 4-3 in 11 innings off a Nick Hundley (current San Diego Padre) walk-off sacrifice fly.
Not only did that series win advance Arizona to their 15th College World Series, but it helped avenge one of the UA's most disappointing postseason eliminations in school history just five years earlier.
In 1989 the Wildcats had what was thought to be one of their most talented teams in school history, built around players such as JT Snow, Scott Erickson, and Trevor Hoffman. Arizona was the host of it's regional and was stunned by Long Beach State, losing two times to the Dirtbags in the regional and getting outscored by a combined 11 runs in the two contests.
As for 2011's edition of the rivalry, Long Beach State may not be the force it's been in the past, but it should be much improved from last year. Despite finishing last in the Big West in 2010, the Dirtbags have been picked by the Big West coaches to finish 5th in the conference this year, just behind traditional conference powerhouses Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine.
The Dirtbags are led by 2010 second team All-Big West member Andrew Gagon and junior Branden Pinder who have a combined 2.03 ERA this season as the top two starters for LBSU. Like the Wildcats, the Dirtbags have a 1-2 punch that they believe can compete with anyone's in the conference. In fact through four games LBSU has yet to give up a home run this season.
As for the bats, the Dirtbags have a roster full of newcomers, but sophomore second/third basemen Matt Duffy is a guy excepted to carry the bulk of the load offensively this season. He's done just that so far as he currently leads the team in RBIs (4) and hits (6) to go along with a .375 batting average. Other than that, LBSU is very similar to what Arizona was last year in that they'll have a lot of players offensively learning on the fly this season.
Three Keys to the Series
1. Setting the tone:: Simon and Heyer have to get things going early for Arizona as they did last weekend. It's much easier to hit the ball when your pitcher can put up zeros in front of you, especially on the road. If the Wildcat starters can hold down the Dirtbag bats early, the better offense should be able to prevail in the end, which statistically should be Arizona's
2. Don't give em anything: Arizona committed a total of two errors defensively in their opening series against North Dakota State. They're going to need to do that again because if you're Arizona, you can't afford to give up easy runs to a young team at their place. Don't let LBSU's 1-3 record fool you; two of their three losses were by one run, as well as losses to a very good Cal State Fullerton squad.
3. Last year was last year: The Wildcats may have lost both contests to LBSU in 2010 and the Dirtbags are probably even better this year, but so is Arizona; a lot better. If the Cats play anything close to how they played against NDSU last weekend, they should be fine.
Friday 2/25 (3:00 p.m. PT)
(RHP) Kurt Heyer (1-0) 0.00 ERA vs. (RHP) Andrew Gagnon (0-1) 2.57 ERA
Saturday 2/26 (6:00 p.m. PT)
(RHP) Kyle Simon (1-0) 1.17 ERA vs. (RHP) Matt Johnson (0-0) 3.38 ERA
Sunday 2/27 (1 p.m. PT)
(RHP) Tyler Hale (1-0) 1.50 ERA vs. (RHP) Branden Pinder (0-1) 1.50 ERA
Arizona readies for LBSU
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