WildcatAuthority.com serves up eight reasons why the Wildcats have a real shot to advance to their 16th College World Series in program history.
8. Been there, done that
Under coach Andy Lopez's tenure the school has qualified for the postseason six of 10 seasons. Out of those six postseason appearances, twice Arizona has advanced past regional play, including a trip to the College World Series in 2004. In fact, in both 2008 and 2004 the Wildcats were forced to play on the road for regional play, including competing as a three seed in 2004.
Not to mention the fact that just last year, Arizona played in the Fort Worth Regional, which is only about a three-hour bus ride away from College Station.
7. Two is the new one
In each of the last three postseason tournaments, three teams that were not top seeds advanced to Super Regional action, including Fresno State in 2008, when it won the whole thing as a four seed. Chances are, at least a couple of two seeds will advance this weekend, so why can't it be Arizona?
There aren't too many two seeds that were at one point ranked as high as number 11 in the nation, which is exactly what the Wildcats were at one point in the season.
6. Turn up the heat
Let's play weatherman for a second here. The average temperature in College Station this weekend will be a warm 98 degrees. Maybe that's something new to Seton Hall and Wright State where the average temperature this weekend in their hometowns will be somewhere within the comfortable range of 80-87 degrees. You know what Arizona's saying right about now? Hey, thanks for getting us out of the heat for a little bit, because the average temperature in Tucson this weekend is expected to be an average of 100 degrees. So good luck to the competition if it thinks a little bit of sun is going to bother this Wildcat squad.
5. New bats, no problem
Someone may have forgotten to tell the Wildcats that college baseball was using new bats this year that are supposed to make it tougher to hit, because Arizona led the Pac-10 in almost every offensive category this season.
Maybe even more impressive is the fact that Arizona put up these numbers against some of the best pitchers in college baseball, with the conference owning three pitchers that will surely be first round picks in the upcoming MLB draft, the most by any single conference.
The offense has been so good all year that sometimes Arizona fans forget that their offensive leader from last season in Steve Selsky hasn't really played all season.
Still not convinced this lineup is powerful? Guess how many guys in the starting lineup are batting less than .300. The answer: one. And that one is Jett Bandy, who just happens to be arguably one of the best defensive catchers in the league and a guy that just a year ago was a member of the All- Conference Team, boasting a .367 average, which was good enough for fourth in the league.
4. The web gem factory
Arizona's Pac-10 leading .997 fielding percentage just tells part of the story. Yes, the Wildcats make all the plays they are supposed to. Yes, Cole Frenzel led the conference in fielding double plays (48) and Bryce Ortega lead the conference in fielding assists (190). But some of the plays third basemen Seth Mejias-Brean and shortstop Alex Mejia have made this year have not only been quality D-I baseball plays, they've been Major League quality web gems.
Whether it was Mejia snagging a ball deep in the hole and throwing a dart to first base off his back foot or Mejias-Brean making a diving stop at third to start an inning ending double play, these two have been the stars of what is most likely one of the most athletic infields in college baseball.
But don't stop there. Johnny Field, Bobby Rinard, and Joey Rickard have made grabs in the outfield this year that would make Jim Edmonds jealous. If you don't believe me, just watch Arizona play this weekend.
3. The X-Factor(s)
It's one of the most common terms in sports: the "x-factor." Every good team has one. The x-factor is a player that could be the difference between a team having success or a team failing miserably.
Well the Wildcats have two of those: Bryce Bandilla and Tyler Hale. It's no secret; the Wildcat bullpen has been shaky this year. Ok, let's just be honest, it's been absolutely horrendous at times. There was a time when the pen didn't have one guy with an ERA under four, but times have changed.
As of late, Bandilla has shown the ability to finally control his 94 MPH fastball, issuing just one walk in his last two outings. While for Hale, it's just been about regaining his confidence after losing his spot in the starting rotation about a month ago. It's safe to say he's accomplished that, as he recorded the final four outs of the regular season for Arizona last Sunday without giving up a run.
For Hale, the state of Texas is special to him. Not only does he call it home, but also it's where he's had what he calls "one of the defining moments" of his college career so far." He's referring to last year's Fort Worth Regional where he tossed seven innings of two run baseball in his first and only postseason start, which eventually led to him earning a spot in the starting rotation to begin the year.
Coach Lopez says Hale has "the best stuff on the staff by far." We'll get to see just how accurate that statement is this weekend.
2. Stud one and stud one
Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon. Kyle Simon and Kurt Heyer. It doesn't really matter which way you want to say it or whom you want to call the "ace" of the staff, they're both quite simply dominant.
They each made the All Pac-10 Team, they both pound the strike zone, they both throw in the 90s, and they both win games: A lot of games.
Since Arizona has been a member of the Pac-10, only eight pitchers have won 10 games or more in a season for the Cats. Simon and Heyer each have a chance to up that number, as Simon is already sitting on 10 and Heyer is just two away.
Both come into the weekend with sub three ERAs, a combined 18 wins, 243.2 innings pitched, six complete games, 207 strikeouts, and only 35 walks. And that's just for this season.
1. Peaking and streaking
The most important reason the Wildcats have a chance to advance past this weekend might just be the simplest: "They're playing good baseball" as coach Lopez likes to say repeatedly; and according to him that's really the only thing that matters.
Arizona has picked the right time to hit its stride, winning 12 of its last 15 games. During this stretch the Wildcats have hit .328 as a team, outscored opponents 116-43, while the pitching staff has turned in a 2.69 ERA and the defense has turned an impressive 21 double plays. Arizona also hasn't lost back-to-back games in over month, which is good, because it can't afford to do it again.