"This is as good as I've felt about this team in a long time," said UA head coach Andy Lopez.
He should feel good, because after earning the sweep, his Wildcats now only trail UCLA and California by two games for third place in the Pac-10. The three game win streak is also Arizona's longest in conference play this year.
WildcatAuthority.com was at Jerry Kindall Field all weekend long to witness what was arguably the most successful weekend of the season thus far for Arizona.
Friday 4/29: Arizona 4 USC 3
W: Matt Chaffee (5-2) L: Brandon Garcia (2-4)
Saturday 4/30: Arizona 20 USC 4
W: Vincent Littleman (2-3) L: Austin Wood (4-6)
Sunday 5/1: Arizona 8 USC 5
W: Bryce Bandilla (3-1) L: Ben Mount (1-2)
Player of the Series: Robert Refsnyder. He put up some absolute ‘are you kidding me?' numbers this series. The UA outfielder went 5 for 11 at the dish, knocking in eight runs for the series, including a couple of dingers. He's now tied for second in the league in homers (6) and is the conference leader in RBIs (42). The sixth ranked overall offense in the nation got back on track this weekend, and Refsnyder was a big reason why.
Unsung Hero: Johnny Field and Kurt Heyer. It's now the second time in Arizona's last six games where Field has come up with the game-winning hit. This weekend's edition of Field's clutch hitting came in the form of a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning in game one. The hit capped off a dramatic comeback and set the tone for the rest of the series. Even more impressive might be the fact that Field was 0 for 4 at the plate before that single.
"All four at-bats were just really bad," said Field. "I'm just happy I got to redeem myself."
As for Heyer, while the numbers may not show it, his performance in the series finale was as gritty as it gets. He gave up five runs in the first four frames, including a four-run second inning. He didn't have his best stuff, but ultimately managed to pitch 5.1 innings, keeping the team in the game. Again, the numbers weren't there, but after pitching against Arizona State Tuesday night and again Sunday afternoon, Heyer threw over 200 pitches in the span of just four days. If that's not leading by example, then I'm not sure what is.
"I just told (Heyer) in front of his peers today after the game, ‘Hey you know we really appreciated your effort out there," said Lopez. "He's a great competitor and having a great career here."
1. The bullpen: This makes the top of this list for a reason. For the first time this season, the pen was the reason Arizona was successful this series. The pen was 3-0 this weekend, while not allowing a single run in 12 innings pitched this series. It also anchored two Arizona comeback attempts.
2. Picking up Heyer: Coming into the series the Wildcats were 2-8 in conference games not pitched by Kurt Heyer. The Arizona offense Sunday scored eight unanswered runs from the 4th inning on to get Heyer off the hook for what would have been his fourth loss of the year. It was also uplifting, considering the Wildcat offense wasn't able to come through against ASU. This after Heyer had only surrendered four runs to one the most potent offensive teams in the nation.
3. The Sweep: There's no doubt a series sweep was exactly what Arizona needed to jump back into the conference race. Before the series the Wildcats were two games back of the Trojans and sitting in seventh place in the Pac-10. The series sweep created a three-game swing, where Arizona now finds itself a game ahead of USC for fifth place and in shouting distance of second place in the league. If the Wildcats lose any game in this series, their still sitting a game back of the Trojans and a distant sixth place in the conference with only three Pac-10 series remaining.
1. Starting Pitching: Arizona starters in this series went a combined 15 innings and surrendered 12 earned runs on 25 hits. No starter gave up less than seven hits or walked more than one batter. This means throwing strikes wasn't the problem. The USC bats just beat up the starting pitching this series. The Trojan offense is only hitting .266 on the year. So yeah, to see Kyle Simon give up nine hits to this team was a little surprising.
2. Checking out early: UA third base coach Mark Wasikowski was ejected Friday night in the seventh inning after disputing a play at the plate. Wasikowski has been the third base coach at Arizona for the last 10 seasons, meaning a very inexperienced first base coach Shaun Cole had to slide over from first base to third. It's a little different coaching a runner when he's only 90 feet away from scoring. Ironically, this was the same game where Bryce Ortega was waived home from second base off the Johnny Field walk-off single. Maybe it wasn't such a big deal after all.
3. Stranding the runners: It's kind of amazing to think about considering the Arizona offense averaged over 10 runs a game this series, but the Wildcats actually missed out on some opportunities. The Wildcat bats stranded a surprising 26 runners on base in the three games.
Quote of the Series:
"I feel like those two teams at the top of the conference are going to slip. They're going to give in at some point. We keep playing good baseball, and we're going to be right there at the end."
--UA starting pitcher Kurt Heyer
On Deck: The Wildcats will now take their final break from Pac-10 play when they welcome in Alcorn State this Friday for a three-game weekend series.