Arizona baseball begins 2012 NCAA title defense at Hi Corbett
The No. 18 Arizona baseball team will begin its 2012 NCAA title defense tonight at Hi Corbett Field as it opens the 2013 season by hosting Coppin State University.
Arizona head coach Andy Lopez has been persistent in refusing to compare this year’s squad to the national championship team of last year. Lopez has emphasized that he wants to make sure everyone in the program is focused on the game at hand and with the overall progression of this year’s team.
But with regards to tonight, he said, “It’s just one of 56.”
“You want to win every game,” Lopez said. “But I don’t place any more importance on this game.”
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Wildcats haven’t lost a season opener since 2008, when they fell 7-9 to eventual College World Series runner-up Georgia in Athens, Ga. But the Wildcats haven’t lost a home opener since 1995, with a record of 45-10 in the first weekend games of each year.
Six starters from Arizona’s 2012 team have moved on, but many core players remain. The 2012 Pac-12 batting champ, Johnny Field, returns for his junior season. The left fielder slugged for a .370 average and scored 72 runs in 2012.
Field, who was selected to the 2013 Louisville Slugger preseason All-American team, was disciplined at the plate as well. He drew 44 walks over the season and had an on-base percentage of .476. Defensively, Field will shift over to center field since the Tampa Bay Rays drafted former Wildcat Joey Rickard in the ninth round of this past summer’s draft.
“He’s done a great job so far in center,” Lopez said about Field. “He’s been very accurate in throwing people out this fall.”
Junior right-handed starter Konner Wade will take the hill for the Wildcats. The ace was Arizona’s Saturday starter last season, and Arizona finished the season with an 11-3 record with a 3.96 ERA.
Wade made great strides during last season and gained the trust of the coaching staff to be the Wildcats ace in 2013. Wade, who throws a consistent 92 to 93 mph fastball, has been working on a slider during the offseason to add to his game.
“It’s still coming along, but it’s going to be a good pitch for me,” Wade said about his slider. “My fastball and changeup are pretty similar in their movement, so if I can get a pitch that breaks off in the other direction than those two pitches, it will only help me.”
In 2012, Arizona predominantly started only two freshmen throughout the season: Second baseman Trent Gilbert and catcher Riley Moore. Friday night, the Wildcats will likely have at least three freshmen in their starting lineup. Kevin Newman was chosen early in the winter to take over at shortstop, and multiple freshmen were fighting for corner outfield positions as well as first base and designated hitter.
“Coming in as a freshman, you’re a little bit scared,” Moore said about last season. “But as the season goes on, you gain experience and get a lot better.”
Friday, Arizona welcomes a Coppin State club that went 1-53 a season ago and was 0-27 on the road.
In 2012, the Eagles were led by pitcher/infielder Ian Arciaga. The then-freshman hit for a .275 batting average and had an on-base percentage of .320. The three predominant starters for Coppin State combined for an ERA of 9.22.
This is a three-game series with the Eagles, with game two on Saturday afternoon and three on Sunday.
Lopez, who won his first NCAA championship in 1992 with Pepperdine, explained that the most common characteristic of teams coming off a championship is that they get stressed out. Lopez wants to make sure the Wildcats take this season slow and don’t get bogged down with early season woes.
“The reality of college baseball is you have 56 games and then there’s a tournament at the end,” Lopez said. “As long as we are progressively getting better as the season goes along, then we’re doing what we need to do.”