Keeping focus more important than ever now for Arizona Wildcats baseball
Looking ahead in your schedule is never a good idea, and Arizona especially can’t afford to lose focus this weekend when it travels to Pullman, Wash., to visit Washington State.
Following this weekend’s three-game series with the Cougars, the Wildcats will return home to Hi Corbett Field to play rival ASU in a single midweek day game before a three-game weekend series at Stanford. The series could propel Arizona to the top of the conference.
“We take every game one game at a time,” center fielder Johnny Field said. “We break the season up into increments of 10, but we are only focused on the next game at hand. You’ve got to be disciplined that way.”
Arizona (21-11, 6-6 Pac-12) is tied with ASU (20-9-1, 6-6) for fifth place in the Pac-12 conference. Right ahead of them sits the Cardinal (17-10, 5-4).
Carl Miller / Arizona Daily Wildcat Zach Gibbons slides safely into third base. The Wildcats scored four runs to close the first inning.
Both ASU and Stanford play two of the worst teams in the conference this weekend, USC and Washington, respectively.
Even though Arizona is riding a six-game winning streak in which it swept Utah and then California at home, Washington State (17-13, 4-5) will not be a breeze.
Arizona head coach Andy Lopez will need to see tough performances from his pitching staff, as the Cougars boast the No. 1 ranked offense in the Pac-12 conference. Their .317 team batting average and 19 home runs lead the conference. The 198 runs they’ve scored on the year are second only to Arizona’s 220.
“We can’t take any offense lightly,” Lopez said. “They have aluminum bats and take batting practice just like us. Any team in the conference is a dangerous offense.”
It seems like every year the Cougars have a couple of men in their lineup who can just hit bombs. This year, those men are third baseman Nick Tanielu and outfielder Jason Monda.
Tanielu has a .402 average, a .492 on-base percentage and a team-leading 12 doubles. Monda is more of a swing-for-the-fences kind of guy. His six home runs are tied for the most in the Pac-12, and his 30 runs batted in put him in the top five.
Within the last six games, the Arizona offense has appeared to turn the corner and finally find a consistent rhythm. The bottom of the lineup is beginning to produce and adding stability to one of the nation’s most productive lineups.
Health has been a big concern for Lopez and his team. Second baseman Trent Gilbert injured his ankle this past Saturday and was limited to designated hitting on Sunday. The sophomore, who has a conference-leading 38 runs batted in, didn’t look like he was 100 percent following the injury. He went 2-5 in the Sunday game against California but at times seemed hindered by his ankle. Lopez and the rest of the Wildcats need Gilbert to be at 100 percent, as he’s been a main source of run production.
Gilbert isn’t the only one on Arizona’s roster struggling with health problems. Saturday starter James Farris has been dealing with flu-like symptoms for a few weeks now. Farris hasn’t made it past the fifth inning in his previous two starts and relied on the bullpen to get him out.
Despite all the injuries and concerns about future games, the Wildcats must stay focused on the task at hand. Sweeping Utah and California was nice, but that’s what a top Pac-12 team is supposed to do. Washington State will pose a slightly more difficult challenge, but if the Wildcats can’t get by the Cougars, there’s no point in worrying about ASU or Stanford.
“We have to play our game,” Field said. “We know we’re talented, and we know what we’re capable of doing. We’re starting to get on the right track; we just got to keep a strong mindset and stay focused.”