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Column: Arizona baseball different from last season

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Emily Gauci | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez walks off the field during Arizona's 9-5 victory over Oregon on Saturday, March 28 at Hi Corbett Field.

It’s now safe to say that last year’s season is in the past for the Arizona baseball team and coach Andy Lopez. The Wildcats had only won twelve games at this time last year, and the season outlook was bleak.

The Wildcats this season have already reached the total win count from last year and have finally cracked into some rankings.

Arizona ranks No. 13 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, No. 22 in the USA Today/ESPN poll, No. 25 in the latest d1baseball.com rankings and No. 25 in the NCBWA poll after sweeping the Oregon Ducks over the weekend.

Arizona started its season unranked, but the Wildcats are finally receiving recognition for what they are now and not what they were last season.

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Sympathy was the theme for the Arizona squad last year, considering it only won two conference series.

“It’s what I’ve been comfortable with in my lifetime,” Lopez said. “I have a saying with our guys, ‘Sympathy will kill you.’”

It’s not a dumb thing to say. Sympathy is out the door this season with the way the team has responded.

“Sometimes, you need a good swift kick somewhere,” Lopez said.

Arizona is currently tied at second place with ASU and Cal in the Pac-12 Conference standings.

Lopez said he would make changes when the season began, so they wouldn’t have the same season as last year, but who realistically expected them to be this successful this soon?

Arizona is making a statement with six wins in a row in a strong conference.

“It’s the [Pac-12]; I don’t care what anybody says,” Lopez said. “It’s a really good conference, so I’m very happy with them.”

Anyone who covered the Arizona squad last year knows that everything is different this season.

The players’ attitudes, Lopez’s attitude, the atmosphere at Hi Corbett Field and everything else varies.

“I like suiting up with guys that play hard, and they do; they play hard,” Lopez said.

USC is Arizona’s next opponent. The Trojans are 4-2 in the Pac-12 after starting the season with a 12-game win streak.

One could say USC was a threat for Arizona earlier in the season.

Both teams won their last conference series, so the matchup this weekend should be a solid one to watch. Luckily for the Wildcats, it’s a home series for them.

Arizona gathered a season-high 3,609 fans in Hi Corbett Field during the Oregon series opener on Friday.

Lopez pointed something out after Sunday’s game: the improvement in the offense and the tangibles it has showed this season.

The offensive leaders for Arizona continue to be Scott Kingery and Kevin Newman, but Lopez said the burden has divided while guys such as Zach Gibbons, Jared Oliva and Ryan Aguilar have stepped up to help the offense.

He even gave credit to Cody Ramer, who played second base when Kingery was out with the flu during Friday’s game.

What does this mean for Arizona?

Unlike last year, when someone was in a slump, there’s someone else who can help cover the missing production in the lineup.

“This team fights back, and they compete,” Lopez said, “and that’s all I ever ask of our guys — just play hard.”

According to Lopez, playing hard is the key for this team to continue doing well in conference play.

“Good things kind of happen when you play hard,” he said, “and I think they’re seeing that now more than ever.”

If the team continues to do so, it could potentially win the upcoming series before facing ASU, one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12, in Phoenix.

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Updated December 7, 2021