Arizona baseball hosts USC for crucial series this weekend
Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA Baseball lost 9-2 to San Francisco Sunday afternoon. The Cats won the series overall 2-1.
After last weekend’s series victory over ASU, the Wildcats return home to host USC at Hi Corbett Field for three decisive games that will determine their playoff fate.
After losing six of seven, Arizona rebounded to take two of three from the then-No. 15 Sun Devils to stay afloat in the playoff picture. The UA will need to continue with another successful weekend series, starting with the first game this Friday at 6 p.m., if it has any hopes of making the playoffs.
“[Last weekend], we played like we were a tournament team,” head coach Andy Lopez said. “This weekend we have to do well again. We’ve put ourselves in this situation.
“We have a lot of games we’ve given away, a lot we’ve lost by one run, and a lot where we haven’t pitched well.”
Arizona’s pitching has been a surprising weakness for the Wildcats this year. The rotation has had problems protecting leads and inconsistencies with their bullpen continue to creep up.In last weekend’s loss to ASU, the bullpen was unable to stifle the Sun Devils’ bats, blowing a 3-3 tie game in the eighth inning to eventually fall 6-3.
The team’s ERA is 4.52, up nearly 0.80 runs from last year’s 3.70 ERA.
Despite the struggles on the mound, Wildcat’s bats have kept the team alive, comprising a league-best 6.52 runs averaged per game and have scored five runs or more 18 times in their past 27 games.
“We got a really important series coming up,” sophomore catcher Riley Moore said. “We control our own destiny. We’ve got to go for the sweep this weekend and if we do, we make the postseason. If not, we don’t.
“It’s do or die.”
If Arizona gets backed into a corner, one place it might need to look is at junior Brandon Dixon.
The third baseman leads the Pac-12 in batting average (.370), RBIs (50), runs scored (54) and stolen bases (30). He became just the fourth player in school history with 40 runs and RBI and 30 stolen bases.
But, Dixon and the rest of the Wildcats have little margin for error with the NCAA Tournament selection on Monday, May 27.
“I think that if we can win the series, it will help tremendously,” Lopez said.
“[If we win two] I think we will be alright and if we win all three, we’ll be in pretty good shape.“
While the UA bats may be hot, compiling 20 runs in its pivotal series against the Sun Devils, Arizona can’t become complacent because USC’s pitching may be even hotter.
The Trojans’ pitching staff has allowed four runs or fewer in 10 of their past 13 games and has a 2.17 ERA over their past 58 innings pitched. The defense has also helped, as USC’s .975 team fielding percentage ranks fourth in the Pac-12.
If Arizona takes the series, the Wildcats should end up sneaking into the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in the past 20 years and continue their national title defense.
“I’m hoping that we can put the ball in play and find the hits,” freshman Scott Kingery said. “The whole season has come down to this and it’s up to us to seize this opportunity.”