Arizona baseball: Wildcats face Sun Devils in do-or-die series
After splitting two close contests with rival Arizona State earlier in the season, the Wildcats now enter their final road series in a must-win situation against the 15th-ranked Sun Devils this weekend at Packard Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
The Wildcats have dropped seven of their last eight against Pac-12 opponents and sit squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. A dropped series against ASU could almost seal Arizona’s fate.
And just to raise the stakes even more, the 2012-2013 Territorial Cup hangs in the balance, as the winner of the series will also claim possession of the multi-sport award.
“It’s pretty simple,” head coach Andy Lopez said. “We’re not getting quality starts, we are playing pretty shabby defense at crucial times in the game, and we need a couple of big hits.”
Carl Miller / Arizona Daily Wildcat Arizona Baseball had difficulty on the mound during Tuesday night's 7-5 loss to Arizona State. A total of six different Wildcat pitchers entered the game.
Arizona’s playoff window has been shutting quickly since the start of May, and most recent sweep at the hands of No. 10 UCLA last weekend didn’t make things any better.
“[The losses against UCLA] were definitely a wakeup call,” third baseman Brandon Dixon said.
“We knew we needed to take care of business, and we didn’t. This weekend, we have to get after it and do what we can, or else things probably won’t work out in playoffs.”
While the offense struggled some against a strong Bruins pitching staff, Dixon and Arizona bats haven’t been the main reason for the slide. The junior leads the team in batting (.367), slugging (.574) and on-base percentage (.444) while the pitching staff has allowed more than nine runs a game since sweeping Alabama State.
“We need to get hot quick,” Dixon explained. “We have to find a way to win games starting Friday night. We don’t have much [margin] for error. We have to take it one pitch at a time, one game at a time.”
Going into this weekend’s series, Arizona stands at No. 86 in the RPI rankings, and with six games remaining, the team knows that every at-bat counts.
“I expect us to go up and play good baseball,” center fielder Johnny Field said. “We have to turn things around here and get hot down the stretch. Our goal is to win a series, anything short of that will be a disappointment.”
Field, too, has been a constant presence in Arizona’s lineup all season long. He’s second on the team behind Dixon in batting, slugging and on-base while playing a crucial defensive spot in center field.
Reminiscent of the season as a whole, though, Field’s batting average is down from a Pac-12 leading .370 a season prior to .351 this year.
Unless the rotation can figure things out, both Dixon and Field will be relied upon heavily for playoff-like battle with the Sun Devils this weekend.
“I anticipate this will be a great series,” Lopez said.
“It will be based off of who pitches well, who gets a couple timely hits, and who plays good defense. I’m optimistic about this weekend, and the reason I’m optimistic is because I’ve seen this team be consistent. I know they can do it now. They just have to do it for these next six games.”