The Offense: A
Not only was the offense the strength of this Arizona team, but also the bats were some of the best in the nation. The Wildcats ranked third in the country in batting average (.320), 12th in hits (666), 24th in runs scored (410), and ninth in triples (26). In addition, Arizona finished first in the conference in batting average, on base percentage (.384), runs scored, hits, and RBI (370).
The Cats had six players that started on offense for all 60 games, and all six of them hit over .300. In fact Arizona had four players that were ranked among the conferences top 10 batting averages: Bryce Ortega (.353), Joey Rickard (.347), Cole Frenzel (.346), and Alex Mejia (.335).
The overall numbers warrant an "A+" grade, but ironically it was Arizona's offense that led to the team being ousted from the 2011 postseason, as the Wildcats were shutout in their two postseason loses. You can't fail the final exam and expect to get a perfect grade in the class, and that's pretty much what happened here.
The Defense: A-
Arizona ranked second in the conference in both fielding percentage (.976) and double plays turned (55). All that is great, but what really earned them the top grade, were the web gems turned in the field. Most decent D-I teams are going to be able to make the routine plays. However, not very many schools are fortunate to have cannons for arms in the infield like Arizona had with Seth Mejias-Brean and Alex Mejia, or the sure hands of a Bryce Ortega, who Andy Lopez credits as the reason for the UA's defensive success this year.
The combined speed in the field with Joey Rickard, Bobby Rinard, Johnny Field, and even Robert Refsnyder at times, led to some plays you'd only see at the next level.
Unfortunately it was an error by Jett Bandy in the College Station Regional opener that cost Arizona a possible victory. Again, something the Wildcats had done so well throughout the year came back and bit them a little bit in the end.
The Starting Pitching: B+
This one was tough because near the end of the year, Arizona finally started to get some consistency from the number three spot in the rotation, but it wasn't always there.
Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon were as good as advertised all year long, both owning ERAs in the twos, while combining for a 19-8 record, seven complete games, 220 strikeouts in just over 267 innings pitched. It was the Sunday spot that gave the Wildcats some problems.
Tyler Hale who started the year off with a 3-0 record as the Sunday starter, faded fast once conference play began, dropping four straight starts before being replaced by Konner Wade near the end of the season. Wade went 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA the rest of the way for the Cats, which also included a seven-inning shutout of Seton Hall in regional action.
Overall a very solid year for the starting pitching, the Heyer and Simon tandem will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in school history.
The Bullpen: C-
There's no hiding the obvious. The bullpen was inconsistent at best and atrocious at worst. Despite a strong finish by the pen during the last quarter of the season, Arizona still only finished with one player with an ERA under three. That player was Bryce Bandilla, and while he had the lowest ERA of any UA reliever, he also led the team in walks with 36. While everyone knew this team didn't posses the talent of a Ryan Perry or Daniel Schlereth, no one quite expected it to be this poor.
In fact Bandilla was supposed to be the team's closer, but was pulled less than halfway through the year in favor of the surprise success of Matt Chaffee. While he was good at times, an ERA of 4.85 still is quite high for a closer. What was supposed to be a duo of impact sophomores in Vincent Littleman and Nick Cunningham, were anything but as the two combined to surrender 30 runs in just over 41 pitched.
Although the pen did end up on a high note, as Cunningham willed Arizona to a season saving victory, turning in 5.1 strong innings of scoreless baseball in relief during the first regional championship game against Texas A&M in early June
The Coaching: B- Arizona head coach Andy Lopez has been with Wildcat baseball program for 10 seasons now and there's no doubt they guy knows how to win. His record with the Wildcats overall is 355-229 (.645), with seven postseason appearances, including a trip to the College World Series in 2004.
He managed to guide the UA to the tournament again with a 39-21 overall record, but there's no doubt this team had higher aspirations than just a regional appearance. There were also countless times where Lopez admitted to making a poor managerial decision, whether it was pinch hitting for someone or leaving a pitcher in too long. When you have one of the top offenses in the league and a one, two punch like Heyer and Simon at the top; you've got to figure out a way to win a regional.
There was never a question of effort or team chemistry for this unit. Never once did you hear a teammate throw someone under the bus after a rough outing. Never once did you hear coach Lopez question the effort of any of his players. In fact, all year long he mentioned the fact that he was proud of the effort in the classroom and the way the guys conducted themselves on and off the field. While being a good person doesn't grant you an automatic ticket to a National Championship, it sure is refreshing to hear nowadays.
Overall Grade: B-
In the beginning of the season I predicted Arizona to end the regular season with a 38-17 mark, a third place spot in the conference, and a trip to a Super Regional. The Wildcats in reality finished with a 36-19 regular season record, fourth in the Pac-10, and one win away from a Super Regional. This pretty much sums up the season for Arizona. It seems like it fell just short this year, and with the amount of talent it had, this makes it a tougher pill to swallow.
The school qualified for the playoffs for a second straight year without the services of Steve Selsky, but in the end everyone knows the team still should have had enough talent to get the job done. 2011 was indeed a missed opportunity.