After a rough start to the conference schedule where Arizona began just 6-9, the Cats stormed to the finish line, ending the regular season winners of 12 of their last 15 contests. This was thanks to much improved pitching, as the staff held a 2.69 ERA, struck out 91 batters, and walked just 31 during that span.
In all to similar fashion, the Wildcats dug themselves a hole early in regional play as well, dropping their first game to Seton Hall, putting the UA just one loss away from elimination.
The team answered the bell however, winning three in a row to force a championship game Tuesday afternoon, again leaning on fantastic pitching performances where the staff surrendered just three runs during the three wins.
But in the end Arizona fell back on old habits, with the hitting not coming through when it needed to and the pitching once again failing the team late in games.
WildcatAuthority.com takes a look back at what proved to be Arizona's final weekend of baseball in 2011.
Friday 6/3: Seton Hall 4 Arizona 0
W: Jon Prosinski (7-4) L: Kurt Heyer (8-4)
Saturday 6/4: Arizona 13 Wright State 0
W: Kyle Simon (11-3) L: Casey Henn (7-4)
Sunday 6/5 (Game 1): Arizona 6 Seton Hall 0
W: Konner Wade (3-0) L: Brian Gilbert (2-4)
Sunday 6/5 (Game 2): Arizona 7 Texas A&M 4
W: Nick Cunningham (1-0) L: Kyle Martin (2-2)
Tuesday 6/7: Texas A&M 3 Arizona 0
W: Nick Fleece (7-1) L: Kurt Heyer (8-5)
Player of the Regional: Bryce Ortega was Mr. Consistent this weekend in College Station. He batted an even .600 for the regional while scoring three runs and stealing a base against top notch pitching.
On the defensive end he was about as cool and collected as one can be, making some run saving plays up the middle and not committing a single error. Head coach Andy Lopez said all year long that Ortega was one of the leaders of the team and the key to its defensive success. We all witnessed why over the weekend.
Rookie Watch: Konner Wade showed Arizona fans over the weekend that despite the almost certain loss of Kyle Simon to the MLB draft, the Wildcats starting pitching rotation will be in good hands next year. In the Wildcats' first Sunday elimination game against Seton Hall, the freshman stepped up big, tossing 7 innings of three hit, shutout baseball.
He ends the season with a 3-0 record and has really grown tremendously since his first outing on March 1 against Rice, when he gave up three runs in three innings.
Unsung Hero: For anyone that watched the Wildcats in regional play over the weekend, this one is easy. Nick Cunningham turned in the outing of his life Sunday night against the host Texas A&M Aggies in front of nearly 5,000 screaming fans. His numbers alone were great, as he went 5.1 innings of two hit, shutout baseball in relief. But what was even more impressive were the circumstances he had to overcome.
Coming into regional play Cunningham saw very limited playing time and was forced into action in a win or go home situation after starter Tyler Hale had to exit the contest due to injury. These are the kind of inspiring moments you see in the MLB postseason. Hopefully that outing helps Cunningham to get his arm major league ready for next season, because the Cats are going to need him.
1. Never say die cats: Arizona dropped the regional opener to Seton Hall, putting the Wildcats in an enormous hole to start off the 2011 postseason. The UA went on to win three straight elimination games in two days to force a regional championship game with Texas A&M Tuesday afternoon. Arizona went about just as far as you can go in this thing without advancing, and maybe we're a different call at the plate in the fifth and a managerial move in the eighth away from the Wildcats traveling to Tallahassee this weekend to take on Florida State.
2. Pressure packed pitching performances: At one point during the weekend, Arizona Wildcat pitchers had gone 23 straight innings without giving up a run, something that hadn't been done all season long. Konner Wade, Kyle Simon, and Nick Cunningham combined to go 3-0 in the regional, while not allowing a single run in 21.2 innings.
Despite the 0-2 regional record, Kurt Heyer also stepped up, giving the UA a chance to win, especially in Arizona's final game, tossing 7.2 innings of two run baseball on three days rest. His overall line of 14.1 innings pitched, five earned runs surrendered, and seven punch-outs, was good enough to earn him All-Regional honors.
3. A step in the right direction: While the Wildcats didn't win the regional, Arizona at least heads into the offseason knowing it will get some major attention from the college baseball world next year. The Wildcats played Texas A&M toe to toe for 8 innings Tuesday afternoon and actually outhit the Aggies, seven hits to six, in the game.
Last season Arizona entered regional play just relieved to get in, while this time around the Wildcats came into College Station knowing they could win and quite frankly expecting to win. It didn't quite happen, but improvement from 2010 was shown.
1. Untimely hitting: In Arizona's two losses in regional play, the offense provided a grand total of zero runs. Now according to the rules of baseball, it doesn't really matter how well you pitch or how fantastic your defense is if you lay a big goose egg on the board. The UA was outscored by seven runs in the two losses, but only was outhit by one. That's called not getting it done when it matters most.
2. Little mistakes equal big consequences: In the opener, it was a series of mental lapses that led to Arizona's demise. With runners at first and second base in the fourth, the Pirates put down what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners. Cole Frenzel got greedy and tried to record an out at third base instead of taking the easy out at first base. The throw wasn't even close to being on time, which meant Seton Hall had the bases loaded with nobody out.
Two batters later, Jett Bandy fired an errant ball down to second base trying to get the runner attempting to steal second. Again, another mistake, as there was no way Bandy was going to throw out Will Walsh, who had gotten a great jump. He forced the throw, and it skipped into center field, allowing two runs to score, making a manageable 2-0 deficit a sizable 4-0 lead.
With two outs in the 8th inning of the regional championship game against Texas A&M, Kurt Heyer served up a two out double to Tyler Naquin. Coach Andy Lopez came out to the mound, met with his ace, but left him in. That was mistake number one.
Three pitches later, Heyer surrendered the single up the middle that gave the Aggies the lead. Heyer was pulled; three pitches too late. Bryce Bandilla then entered the game, instead of Kyle Simon, who had proven to be Arizona's best pitcher all season long.
Bandilla gave up the double that scored two more for the Aggies. He was then taken out. Simon was brought in and two pitches later the Wildcats are out of the inning with no further damage done; Again, one move too late.
3. Doomed from the beginning: The Wildcats didn't make it easy on themselves early losing the opening game to a Seton Hall team that was very much the underdog as a three seed. This forced Arizona to have to win four road games in a row in order to advance to the Super Regionals.
To think the Cats were going to do that was pretty unrealistic, considering their season long road win streak was three in a row, with those wins being against teams that were not even in the postseason field (Long Beach State and UNLV). California and UConn were the only two teams that were able to win their regional after dropping their first game.
Closing numbers: The Wildcats finish with an overall record of 39-21 and a 3-2 postseason mark. Both of those are the best since the 2008 campaign; where Arizona went 42-19 while boasting a 4-2 postseason mark, before eventually losing to Miami in three games in Super Regional play.
Arizona's 15-12 conference record is the school's best record since the 2007 season, where the Cats went 15-9. Arizona also finishes just one win shy of its fourth 40-win season since 1986; the last time the Wildcats won the College World Series.