UA baseball sweeps Cal, stays in Pac-12 title hunt

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Emily Gauci / Arizona Athletics | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona pitcher Nathan Bannister (35) throws a pitch during the first game against Stanford on Friday, April 15.

Expectations were minimal for the Arizona baseball team heading into the season. The team was projected to finish No. 9 in the Pac-12 Conference by the media and, in fairness to those involved in the voting process, it wasn’t necessarily an outlandish projection.

Arizona, as head coach Jay Johnson admitted before the season started, had few proven pitchers on its roster and lost key contributors from its lineup, which was not exactly a recipe for success. The Wildcats looked like the team the media thought they were at the beginning of their conference schedule.

They started 3-6 in conference play after being swept by Utah, despite Arizona leading in all three games until the late-innings. Arizona was essentially right where it was supposed to be in the standings: the lower third.

The Wildcats weren’t a bad team. They were competitive in every game, but they simply had trouble winning the close ones. Fast forward three weeks from that Utah series and that has certainly changed.

The Wildcats have since won three series in a row, including a home series against the potent Stanford Cardinal and a road sweep of the California Golden Bears, a team that was sitting atop the conference standings.

Arizona’s recent excellence led it to improve to a 10-8 conference record, becoming the first team in the Pac-12 to boast double figures in the conference win column. The Wildcats vaulted over the low bar that was set for them and then some. They will finish in the top third of the conference and will likely have postseason baseball headed their way if the Wildcats maintain the pace.

Arizona was picked to be a No. 3 seed in the Lafayette Regional as one of the last four teams in the field of 64, according to Baseball America’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.

That projection, however, was made Wednesday—days before the Wildcats swept Cal—meaning that Arizona’s current postseason outlook is now more favorable than it was a few days ago. It’s now an outlook that has shifted from the Wildcats being a bubble team to one firmly in the field.

But that outlook isn’t cemented.

The Wildcats still have 13 more Pac-12 games left to play and wins are difficult to come by in this conference. A three-game winning streak can turn into a three-game losing streak in a hurry. Therefore, Arizona’s recent tear doesn’t mean it can take its foot off the pedal, knowing that a postseason birth has been locked up.

What Wildcat fans do know is that Arizona pays no attention to the expectations that are placed it. This won’t be the No. 9 place team it was picked to be.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.



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