The Arizona baseball team held a virtual press conference on Wednesday, April 28, ahead of the Wildcats’ three-game series this weekend against Utah.
Arizona’s three-game sweep of USC last weekend marked their fifth straight Pac-12 series win. It was Arizona’s first sweep of a conference opponent in a series this season. The team is currently riding a six-game winning streak and has been playing their best brand of baseball during this impressive stretch.
Head coach Jay Johnson alluded to the team’s confidence during this momentous run and their continued belief in one another.
“In terms of the confidence, I think it’s very high,” Johnson said. “They understand what it takes to be successful and the continued commitment to those things throughout the week to be prepared to play on the weekend. I think they believe in their talent, but I think they believe in each other, in terms of their reliability, to do what is necessary to put us in a good position to be successful on the weekend. I think they draw a lot of confidence from that.”
Here are some key takeaways from the rest of the press conference:
Arizona’s high offensive production isn’t by accident
The Wildcats sport one of the most lethal lineups in all the Pac-12 and the country. They currently stand in the top-10 in almost every offensive category in the nation. Their offensive prowess is a big reason why they hold a 27-11 record overall and are ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation according to Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.
This lineup full of professional hitters is spearheaded by their dynamic freshman duo in Jacob Berry and Daniel Susac. Their offensive numbers this season jump off the stat sheet and speak for themselves. Both have combined for 102 hits and are first and second respectively on the team’s runs-batted-in leaderboard for the season.
Coach Johnson knew he had a viable opportunity to land both Berry and Susac during recruiting and has been very impressed with their growth in maturity throughout the season.
“We felt like we had a good chance to get them through the draft,” Johnson said. “Both of them turned down opportunities for professional baseball, and you can see why with that special power. I think what’s impressed me the most in [Berry's] regard is his steadiness. He has a maturity about him that exceeds most freshmen. I think you can say, maybe in a different way, [Susac] is the same way. They both come from really strong backgrounds, and their physical talent is easy to see. I think what’s impressed me is that they seem more along the lines of a sophomore, junior or senior in terms of how they carry themselves. There’re really good freshmen all over the Pac-12 and the country with a five-round draft. I think these guys are different cats in terms of their readiness to do this at a high level.”
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Arizona’s lineup is very deep in which they currently have an astonishing seven players hitting over a .300 batting average for the season (min. 65 at-bats). This offense has been a must-watch all year as they produce hit parades on a regular basis and can hurt opposing pitchers in so many ways.
Johnson is well aware that his lineup is full of talent. However, he understands that they’re much more than their talent alone.
“The cool part about it is, I know it doesn’t happen by accident,” Johnson said. “I think every single one of them could be a professional player. I don't think that’s a stretch to say that. The talent, you start there. But then, what they do on a daily basis is what separates them. The next part is the toughness or consistency to not just rely on the success. This doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by talent, preparation [and] mental toughness. They don’t really get rattled by getting out or maybe a bad game. They do a really good job of staying present and then staying to their plan. One of our biggest things is making the pitcher adjust to us as opposed to us adjusting to the pitcher.”
Chase Silseth’s work ethic speaks for itself
Arizona’s ace pitcher Chase Silseth has been phenomenal for his squad while turning in some dominant pitching outings this season. He is one of the best pitchers in all the Pac-12 and the nation and has been very reliable for the Wildcats in setting the tone in any given series. A player with a competitive streak that’s complemented well by an excellent work ethic.
“In September, we had some very high-level conditioning things that maybe we hadn’t done before that he [Silseth] always won,” Johnson said. “He was the first guy to the line in every sprint/agility drill. As the workouts continued to raise in intensity and duration, he kept winning. That was kind of the first thing that really stood out to me.”
Johnson couldn’t help but gush over Silseth’s desire to win mixed with his pure pitching ability.
“When we started our inter-squad phase, I did feel like we were going to have a good offensive team again,” Johnson said. “All but one outing in the fall, he shut our team down pretty good. You can see the competitiveness come through in that regard. It’s so hard to get that match of internal character, competitiveness [and] desire to win with the pitch ability [Silseth] has. I think that’s what separates him and sets him apart.”
Silseth didn’t always possess the strong work ethic that he owns now. Before transferring to Arizona, he played for the University of Tennessee and College of Southern Nevada. During both stops, he learned how to take care of his body and polish his pitching mechanics.
“Coming out of high school I was 6’0 ... 240 pounds,” Silseth said. “I learned how to eat, take care of my body, work out and things like that. That’s kind of the biggest thing that I took out of there. Obviously, playing in the SEC and Division-1 baseball is a lot different. Coming from high school and how my body was, ... how I didn’t work hard in high school. That was the change right there. That’s when I felt in my heart, I want to improve at this game. I went to College of Southern Nevada, and that’s when I started learning new terminology with rotation in the hips, hip mobility and all that stuff. There, I kind of learned more things on the field. And then here, it’s just putting those two things together. Taking care of your stuff, recovery, sleep, homework [and] getting things that need to be done earlier translate to good preparation on the field.”
Johnson not overlooking Utah in upcoming series
The Utah Utes enter this weekend’s series against Arizona only 5-13 in the Pac-12 and 10-23 record overall. They sit at the bottom of conference standings and are essentially out of the running for playoff contention at this point in the season. They will play with nothing to lose which can be dangerous for the Wildcats who have a lot to lose.
Johnson knows that his team can’t afford to take Utah for granted and that any Pac-12 series, no matter the team, can be competitive.
“When you attach anything to the task at hand, all you do is complicate the task,” Johnson said. “We are choosing not to do that, and this is just one of those cases. We have to play good to win any Pac-12 series that you play. The name on the chest is irrelevant. They got their chance to recruit good players and have pro players on their team. I think outside of one weekend, they’ve won a game every weekend. We’re going to have to play good to win. If we don’t play good, then we’re not going to win. The focus always goes back to the play.”
Arizona will look to build on their six-game winning streak and capture their sixth straight Pac-12 series win as they host Utah at Hi Corbett starting on Friday, April 30, at 6 p.m. MST. The three-game set will conclude Sunday, May 2, at 12 p.m. MST.
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