The Wildcats look to snap out of a three-game funk, while the Huskies look to build on back-to-back wins ... Arizona opens the second half of its Pac-12 slate in a three-way tie for first place ... Washington approaches the mid-way point of its conference schedule with a chance to move over the .500 mark with a sweep ... The Cats have dropped just one league series thus far, while the Huskies have collected just one series victory in conference - against Oregon in mid-march, one of the team's tied atop the league standings ... UA surely needs its weekend pitching and bullpen to round back into early season form following a string of rough all-around outings ... The Huskies have some solid overall pitching numbers that have dipped slightly in league play and will be tested against the league's top hitting club (by average) ... The Cats have played just 10 road games and have home runs in six of those contests (out of nine total for the year) ... A strong UW defensive unit has committed just 30 errors on the year, which is exactly half of UA's 60 in 36 games ... UA's northern-most road trip of the year following road conference series at Corvallis, Ore., and Salt Late City, Utah, in previous trips.
Leading Off: - Arizona's .326 batting average ranked No. 5 in the nation entering the week. - Three Wildcats rank in the top-10 in batting average in the Pac-12. - Alex Mejia is two base hits shy of 200 for his career. - Seth Mejias-Brean has hit safely in 48 of his last 55 games played. - Joey Rickard has played in all 154 games of his career. - Trent Gilbert carries a current team-best seven-game hitting streak. - UA leadoff batters have reached base at a .430 clip this season. - UA has collected 10+ hits in 27 games this season. - Wildcat pitchers have a Pac-12 leading 256 strikeouts. - UA hitters have struck out the third-fewest times on the season (172). - The Cats have trailed at one point in 21 of their last 23 games. - Kurt Heyer has exactly 300 strikeouts in his career. - UA's 10-5 mark is its best 15-game conference record since 2007. - Seth Mejias-Brean (13/9) and Johnny Field (26/20) have more drawn more walks than strikeouts. - Bobby Brown has a base hit in 12 of his last 13 games.
Arizona Head Coach Andy Lopez: The Wildcats are coached by Andy Lopez, who is now in his 11th season with a 379-241-1 record at the school. He has guided the Wildcats to postseason competition in seven of the last nine years, including two straight NCAA regionals and highlighted by a 2004 College World Series appearance. The Wildcats have won at least 30 games in five straight years and in nine of Lopez's 10 seasons at the school. Overall, Lopez has more than 1,000 career victories, one national championship and four College World Series appearances. Lopez owns a career record of 1,066-659-7 in 30 years as a head coach, including stints at Cal State Dominguez Hills (1983-88), Pepperdine (1989-94), Florida (1995-2001) and Arizona (2002-present). Lopez led Pepperdine, Florida (twice) and Arizona to College World Series appearances. His total victories are 13th-most among active coaches and he is just one of just 45 individuals to reach 1,000 career victories.
UA-ASU Recap: Arizona saw a five-run lead evaporate and rival Arizona State surged ahead with an explosive seven-run seventh inning to win a non-conference game 12-8 in Tempe on Tuesday night ... The Cats out-hit the Devils 13-12, but UA's bullpen faltered in the middle and late innings ... Starter Tyler Crawford (4.2 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 SO) turned over a 7-2 lead with two down in the fifth, but the Bullpen surrendered the two inherited runners and another run in the sixth ... After UA tacked on a run in the top of the seventh for an 8-5 lead, ASU rallied with seven runs to overtake the Cats in the bottom of the frame ... Closer Mathew Troupe entered in the decisive seventh and was unable to keep the tying run from scoring before surrendering the four runs that provided the winning margin ... Troupe suffered his first collegiate loss after a stellar 2-0, six saves start to his career ... Seth Mejias-Brean hit his first home run in 498 official at-bats dating back to his freshman season - a three-run round-tripper in UA's six-run fifth inning to take a 7-2 lead.
UA-UCLA Recap: The Bruins handed the Wildcats their first weekend series defeat of the season, taking the second and third games by scores of 15-3 and 6-2, respectively ... UA captured a Game 1 victory, 4-3, on Friday night behind Kurt Heyer's second straight complete game ... The Cats' bats cooled off a bit, hitting just .275 in the series ... UCLA, meanwhile, found a winning combination of good hitting and pitching ... The Bruins hit .333 as a team over the three games, including 20 hits in Saturday's 12-run thumping ... Arizona put a leadoff runner on base just six times (out of 26 leadoff at-bats) in the series, while UCLA did so 13 times (.481) ... The Bruins capitalized at some key some moments, too, outscoring UA 10-5 in two-out RBI in the series ... Defensively, the Wildcats committed seven errors, including five in the Game 2 loss ... The Cats were led offensively by Seth Mejias-Brean's 6-for-12 (.500) effort that included three runs scored, while Robert Refsnyder and Alex Mejia collected four hits apiece.
First Time For Everything: For the Wildcats, it was losing a weekend series. Arizona dropped a three-game series to then-No. 17 UCLA over the weekend, snapping a string of eight-straight weekend series victories to begin the year. It was a good run for the Wildcats, who had won five straight Pac-10/12 series dating back to the end of 2011. Still, the program has won eight of nine this year and 11 of 13 dating back to the final month of last season. The Cats will try to get back to their winning ways this weekend with three games at Washington (April 20-22).
Leadoff Men: One of the decisive factors in the UA-UCLA series was getting leadoff men on base - or not getting them on base. In Game 1, Arizona's leadoff batter reached base four times, and the Wildcats scored in two of those innings en route to a 4-3 victory. Over the next two games, UA put a leadoff batter on base just twice and scored in both innings. The problem was UCLA, which only had one leadoff batter reach on Friday, was starting innings the right way on Saturday and Sunday. In Game 2, the Bruins' leadoff batter reached base in eight of the nine innings (scored five of the eight times). In Game 3, the Bruins placed the leadoff man on base four more times leading to runs scored in three innings. It's an area the Wildcats have been pretty strong all season as the club's leadoff hitters are reaching base at a .430 clip. Opposing leadoff men have reached at a .362 clip against UA pitchers.
Falling Behind: Arizona has developed a habit of falling behind early in games, something that has proven costly at times while other times simply serving as a wakeup call. Arizona has trailed at some point in 21 of its last 23 games (13-10 record) and in 26 of 36 on the season (14-12). A season ago, the Cats trailed during 38 of their 60 games played. They posted a 17-21 mark in those games. So the early returns in 2012 could indicate that the club has learned how to rally from deficits. In reality, the Wildcats would prefer to get ahead and stay ahead and put this comeback business behind them. We'll see what the future has in store.
Fearsome Foursome: Juniors Alex Mejia, Seth Mejias-Brean, Robert Refsnyder and Joey Rickard have combined to make 604 starts in 513 total games played. They have missed a combined three games in their careers, with Rickard playing in all 154 games and missing only one start. It's been a very consistent a productive group that has helped guide the Wildcats to consecutive NCAA Regional appearances. Together they have accumulated 793 base hits and 447 runs scored, hitting .332 (793-2390) as a group.
Mejia Mania: An All-Pac-10 selection as a sophomore, shortstop Alex Mejia is turning in a sensational junior season. Mejia ranks third on the team and sixth in the Pac-12 with a .374 batting average entering this week. He is slugging .497 on the season, which is third on the team, and has been boosted by seven doubles, a triple and three home runs. The round-trippers tie for most on the team and are his first since his freshman season after he snapped a streak of 371at-bats without a home run earlier this season. Mejia has developed from a steady bottom of the order hitter to a guy that now hits No. 3 in the lineup. In his career, Mejia boasts a .339 batting average, 104 runs scored, 198 hits and 107 RBI. Interestingly, Mejia has been even more efficient in conference games in his career, hitting .365 (93-255) with 40 runs and 37 RBI in 69 career league contests. Defensively, Mejia makes some spectacular plays on seemingly a daily basis, and his 117 assists are most in the Pac-12. Mejia was named a second team preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
SMB On a Roll:Seth Mejias-Brean is turning in his best season as a Wildcat in 2012. Mejias-Brean, who has made 147 starts at third base as a Wildcat, carries a career-best and team-leading .387 batting average (.387, fifth-best in Pac-12) into this weekend. His 36 RBI on the season not only rank sixth among Pac-12 players, but have surpassed the 28 he collected in all of 2011. Speaking of his sophomore campaign a year ago, Mejias-Brean has continued to be one of the Wildcats most productive hitters since the end of last April. Beginning on April 30 of last year and continuing through this week, Mejias-Brean is hitting a robust .398 (80-201) with 34 runs scored and 48 RBI over the course of 55 games. He recently had a 21-game hitting streak snapped, but has still hit safely in 48 of the last 55 games dating back to 2011. In his career, Mejias-Brean is a .331 hitter with 97 runs and 95 RBI.
UA's Iron Man: Junior centerfielder Joey Rickard has played in all 154 games of his Wildcat career, including 153 starts. That's 154 straight games played for Rickard, which puts him No. 8 in school history for consecutive games played. Provided he stays healthy and in the lineup, Rickard can move into the top-five by season's end. It's an impressive feat for a guy that has been UA's table-setter at the top of the order and one asked to roam the spacious outfields at Kindall/Sancet and Hi Corbett Field in his career. He's hitting .331 this season with 11 doubles and 29 runs scored, which has improved his career average to .328. He has 47 extra base hits (30 2B, 5 3B and 12 HR), 125 runs scored and 105 RBI. He has 212 career base hits and 37 stolen bases.
Rev'd Up Ref: Junior right fielder Robert Refsnyder is turning in a strong junior campaign after being named an All-Pac-10 player a year ago. Refsnyder, who has homered in three of the last nine games, is fourth on the club in overall batting average (.369, seventh-highest in Pac-12), while his .546 slugging percentage is tops on the team thanks to a team-leading 16 extra base hits. Refsnyder has walked 14 times and been hit by a pitch 10 other times, boosting his on-base percentage to a team-high .458, which is fifth-best in the Pac-12. In addition, he's scored 32 runs and added 37 RBI, while stealing a team-high nine bases. He's been the guy to have at the plate in key situations, hitting .518 with runners in scoring position. In his three-year career, Refsnyder has an impressive .340 batting average, 121 runs scored, 132 RBI and 55 extra base hits (32 2B, 12 3B, 11 HR).
Field Days:Johnny Field has bounced back nicely from a hitting slump that dropped his batting average below .300 a couple weeks ago. Field was mired in a 7-for-49 (.143) slump over a 13-game stretch before a road trip to the state of Utah where he led the Wildcats with a .556 average (10-for-18) in four games and collecting a pair of doubles and scored six runs. His recent stretch of play has raised his batting average from a season-low .294 all the way to its current .319 clip. On the season, Field has scored 36 runs, which is second only to UCLA's Beau Amaral in the Pac-12. He has also drawn a league-leading 26 walks to give him a .447 on-base percentage.
Brown Delivers:Bobby Brown has started each of the last 13 games at designated hitter, a move that has paid dividends for Brown and the Wildcats. The senior had built an 11-game hitting streak that was snapped on Sunday, but with a hit on Tuesday he has collected a hit in 12 of the last 13 games. Over those 13 contests he is batting 19-for-53 (.358) with nine runs scored and 14 runs batted in. His three doubles, two triples and first career home run in the last 13 game shas raised his season slugging percentage to .473. Brown's batting average has risen from .211 to its current .297 mark. On the season, Brown has made 21 starts and played in 26 games. He has nearly as many RBI (25) as base hits (27) on the season. His 25 runs batted in have also surpassed his career tally of 23 that he carried into the 2012 campaign.
The 9-Hole: Freshman Joseph Maggi has earned a spot in the lineup for his abilities to get on base and make things happen in the No. 9 hole of the lineup. The freshman is an outfielder by trade, but with a veteran group in place and a senior at DH, Maggi has worked hard at first base to increase his playing time. He's hitting .379 on the season with 20 starts, to go with nine runs scored and nine RBI. He's also drawn five walks and been hit by a pitch four times, while striking out a mere six times in 66 at bats. His .453 on-base percentage is second-best on the club and has proven valuable to turn over the lineup in recent weeks to UA's experienced top of the order. Sophomore Brandon Dixon, who has 30 starts at first base, has come on late as a defensive replacement when Maqgi has started at first base.
Out of the Gates: In recent seasons, Arizona has been known as a fast-starting team. Just look at the 2011 season when the Wildcats outscored opponents a cumulative 42-18 in the first inning of games. Or look at 2010 when the margin was 48-30. This year, surprisingly, the Cats have been outscored 28-24 in the opening inning of ballgames. It's part of the reason UA has fallen behind in 21 of their last 23 games, and is something the Wildcats would like to turn around. As a team, UA is hitting .317 in the first inning of games, which is below average for all innings. Opponents, meanwhile, are batting .320 in the first inning off UA pitching, which is the only inning in which there is a cumulative .300 or better average.
Home at Hi Corbett: Arizona's decision to move its home venue off campus to historic Hi Corbett Field has paid dividends this season, none bigger than its home showdown with No. 2 Stanford (March 30 - April 1). A crowd of 4,191 turned out for the series opener on Friday, the largest home attendance for the Cats in over four years. More than 3,500 showed up on Saturday and another 2,900-plus cheered the Cats on to a sweep on Sunday. Over the three games, a total of 10,656 passed through the gates, which marked the first time UA surpassed 10,000 fans for a three-game series in two decades. The last time it happened was May 15-17, 1992, when the Wildcats closed out the regular season with a three-game sweep of Arizona State in front of a combined 13,466 at Sancet Field. That was also the last season Arizona hosted an NCAA regional. On the year, the Cats have drawn 57,889 fans in 26 games (avg. 2,226), a significant increase over the 36,412 fans at 33 home games (1,103 per game) a season ago.
Defensive Woes: Errors are one thing Arizona wants to limit in the second half of the conference season. In 36 games, the Cats have committed 60 errors. In 60 games in 2011, the club committed only 56 all season long. A year ago, UA's 0.976 fielding percentage ranked No. 14 in the nation. The team enters this weekend with a .958 fielding percentage that is second-to-last in the Pac-12. It should also be noted, however, that the Wildcats have played some spectacular defense at times, notably on the left side of the infield. Third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean and shortstop Alex Mejia have 12 errors apiece, but they've turned in just as many highlight-reel caliber plays to rob base bits. They've each accrued a few errors, too, on throws after impressive plays. Along with the two upper classmen, freshmen catcher Riley Moore and freshman second baseman Trent Gilbert each have combined for 16 errors, some of which can certainly be attributed to youthful mistakes. If the Wildcats can clean up some play here and there, they have the makings for a strong defensive club like they were a year ago.
From Start To Finish: Baseball is a nine-inning game (usually), but the early returns on this year's Arizona baseball team show that scoring first can make all the difference. Consider that the Wildcats are 12-4 when scoring first in a game, while eight of their 12 losses have come in games when the opponent scores first. One of the indicators has been first-inning runs. The Cardinal and Navy is 9-3 when scoring in the first inning this year, though opponents have edged the Cats 28-24 in first-inning scoring. In 2011, the Cats were a quick-starting club that outscored foes 42-18 in the initial frame over the course of the season and posted a mark of 23-7 when scoring first.
Alive With Five: Five runs seems to be a pretty good breaking point for success for the Wildcats. In 2012, Arizona is 20-4 when it scores five or more runs in a game, while it has struggled to a 4-8 mark when it fails to score at least five runs. Conversely, the same holds true for opponents. When the Wildcats have held opponents under five runs, they are 15-0. When opponents score five runs or more, UA has struggled at to a 9-12 clip.
Ranked Foes: Arizona has played 10 of its last 14 games against ranked teams, and has a 6-4 record in those contests. To date, the Wildcats have played 12 games against teams ranked in the Baseball America Top 25 Poll at the time of the game (7-5 record). The Wildcats split two at No. 8 Rice (3/13-15), before winning a road series at No. 19 Oregon State (3/23-25). Arizona then went home and swept three games from No. 2 Stanford (3/30-4/1) at Hi Corbett Field. Last week, UA lost its first series of the season by dropping two-of-three to then-No. 17 UCLA, then dropped a mid-week game at No. 20 Arizona State on Tuesday. Home games against No. 8 Oregon and four more clashes with No. 20 Arizona State remain on the schedule.
Closing the Deal: Under Andy Lopez, the Wildcats have been dominant in games when they have had a lead late in games. In fact, the Wildcats are 281-27-1 (.912) in the last 309 games when they have a lead after the sixth inning. That covers the last nine full seasons of Lopez's teams that have won at a 91-percent clip in such games. Certainly it has helped having Major League arms in the bullpen. Consider that three players - Mark Melancon, Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry - have reached the big leagues in recent years, and another - Cory Burns - may get a chance this season with the San Diego Padres. In 2011, Arizona was 31-4 when leading after six innings. So far in 2012, the Wildcats are 19-3 in such games.
Heyer Standards: Junior Kurt Heyer is in his third season as the Friday starter for the Wildcats. He is a two-time All-Pac-10 honoree and has been tabbed as preseason third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and is on the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award. As a sophomore, Heyer tied for the most starts in the nation (20) and ranked fourth nationally with 134 strikeouts. The 6-foot-2 right-hander tallied double-digit strikeouts six times in 2011, and has done so 11 times in his career. In 2012, Heyer is 6-1 with a 2.09 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 69.0 IP, including three complete games.
Heyer Rings `Em Up:Kurt Heyer matched his career high set during his freshman season with 14 strikeouts against Harvard on March 2 and now has 57 on the season. In his career, Heyer has exactly 300 strikeouts, which is believed to be the most in the nation for active pitchers (research courtesy Troy Prendergast at Troy University). Heyer's 300 strikeouts are tied for 8th-most in program history with Rich Hinton(1967-69). Two pretty big names - Lance Dickson (304) and Joe Magrane (307) loom in the 7th and 6th spots. Heyer, from Huntington Beach, Calif., has made 45 starts in his career, which is tied with Lance Dickson for eighth-most in program history. He boasts a 21-10 record and a 2.62 ERA with just 65 walks in 309.1 innings pitched in his career.
`K'onner Wade: Sophomore RHP Konner Wade has settled nicely into his role as the team's No. 2 starter. Wade has been effectively wild at times in 2012, evidenced by 25 walks and 13 hit batsmen in 63.2 innings of work. At the same time, he's struck out 59 batters (3rd in the Pac-12) and limited foes to a .233 batting average. The 59 strikeouts lead the club, which is a bit surprising since he racked up just 28 strikeouts in 61.2 innings as a freshman. Wade, whose career high was seven punch-outs entering the season, shattered the previous mark with 13 in his season debut against North Dakota State on Feb. 18. He followed that up with another 10 strikeouts a week later against Auburn on Feb. 25 and 10 more versus Harvard on March 3. He spent last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he became a Cape Cod League All-Star mostly as a closer. He's remained a starter at Arizona, a role he has thrived in for the most part. In his career as a starter (6-1, 17 career starts), Wade has thrown 103.2 innings with a 3.29 ERA (38 ER). He was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week on April 2 following a complete-game three-hitter he pitched to clinch UA's series victory over Stanford on March 31. Wade suffered his first collegiate pitching loss last Saturday against UCLA.
The Bullpen: Arizona's bullpen has hit a rough patch at the mid-point of the conference season, which makes it easy to note that it has proven critical at times in some of the club's victories. In UA's 10 Pac-12 victories, the bullpen has a respectable 4.50 ERA in 16.0 innings pitched. The key has been only six walks against 13 strikeouts. But in the six losses to Pac-12 foes (includes mid-week game vs. ASU), the bullpen has a 7.97 ERA in 20.1 innings pitch. The fault has been 12 walks and five hit batsmen against 17 strikeouts. In the current three-game losing streak, the pen has a 10.54 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched, with seven walks and five hit batsmen against eight strikeouts. If UA's relievers can execute pitches and not give free passes, they have the makings for a solid unit. Stephen Manthei has been a reliable setup guy much of the year, and freshman closer Mathew Troupe has a 2-1 record, six saves and a 3.80 ERA in 15 appearances. Left-handers Tyler Crawford and Augey Bill have shown some promise in recent weeks, and will challenge Vincent Littleman for the top left-handed options out of the pen.
On Deck:Arizona steps aside from the heat of the Pac-12 title race as it hosts a non-conference series against East Tennessee State at Hi Corbett Field April 27-29. The following weekend, the Wildcats host Oregon for three games (May 4-6).