Arizona baseball notebook: Wildcats in familiar territory, UCSB preview, and more

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Emily Gauci | Arizona Athletics

Arizona pitcher JC Cloney (27) throws downfield during a game against UCLA in Tucson.

OMAHA, Nebraska — 

Elimination games are familiar for the Wildcats

Arizona baseball will face its fourth elimination game of the postseason Wednesday when the Wildcats face UC-Santa Barbara at the College World Series.
So far, so good.

Arizona found itself in a similar position in Regionals, when the UA had to win three games in Lafayette, Louisiana to advance to the Super Regionals. The Wildcats once again need to win three games in a row in order to advance to the College World Series Finals.

“Confidence comes from successful experience,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said. “This group has gone through [elimination play] in a very hostile environment. At least we don’t have to play the home team in this ballpark.”

Arizona enters Wednesday with a fresh slate of pitchers after starters Nathan Bannister and Bobby Dalbec combined to throw 15 of 18 innings over the first two games.

JC Cloney is a likely candidate to start on the mound Wednesday, as he ranked second on the team with 16 regular season starts. Another option is Kevin Ginkel, who holds a 4-1 record in six starts and 22 appearances.

Odds work against Arizona’s favor

No team in the modern College World Series format has won its first game, lost its second game and gone on to win the National Championship.

Arizona will look to break that trend this year.

The College World Series first implemented two brackets of four teams in 2000, when LSU came out of Bracket 2 unscathed to reach the Finals, where it beat Stanford.

The last College World Series team to win the first game of its bracket, drop the second and advance to the Finals were the 2007 North Carolina Tarheels. UNC beat Mississippi State in its opening game, then fell to Rice before pulling off three straight victories—one over Louisville and two over Rice—to reach the Finals.

There, the Tarheels fell to Oregon State in a three-game series.

In 1989, when all eight College World Series teams still played under one bracket, Wichita State University pulled off the type of run Arizona hopes to repeat this week.

After winning their first game and dropping their second matchup, the Shockers won three straight elimination games to reach a one-game Final with Texas. Wichita State won 5-3.

According to College World Series history, Arizona’s path to a fifth national title is difficult but not implausible.

Gauchos playing like they’ve been here before

After UCSB eliminated Miami on Monday, head coach Andrew Checketts offered the best quote of the College World Series thus far.

“Everybody is celebrating like we just won the whole thing,” Checketts said. “But it’s hard to act like you’ve done it before when you’ve never done it before. First program World Series win, and it sure looked like it.”

For a program with no College World Series experience before this postseason, the Gauchos have made some Omaha veterans look bad.

In Super Regionals play, UCSB stunned No. 2 overall seed Louisville, beating the Cardinals in two games.
Like the Wildcats, the Gauchos fell to Oklahoma State 1-0 in their first College World Series game but responded by eliminating No. 3 overall seed Miami with a 5-3 win.

One small Big West Conference program took out two of the top three teams in the country by relying on a west coast brand of baseball.

“Well-coached, scrappy, good defense,” Arizona’s Johnson said. “They play good in one-run games. They’re like every team in the west, and they know how to win.”

Rightfielder Devon Gradford leads the Gauchos with a .339 batting average while first-baseman Austin Bush is the team’s top slugger at 11 homers.

UCSB’s most telling stat?

The Gauchos are 28-2 when leading after six innings.

Opening pitch for the west-coast affair is slated for 4 p.m. MST Wednesday. The game will be televised on ESPN.


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