The Arizona baseball team heard their name called Monday morning, May 31, as it was revealed that they will be the No. 5 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will host Grand Canyon, Oklahoma State and UC Santa Barbara in the Tucson Regional. Arizona manager Jay Johnson could not be prouder of his team.
“It’s only a number, but let’s talk about the number for a second,” Johnson said. “There’s 300 teams that play Division I baseball, so you’re the top of the 1% so I’m proud of the players for accomplishing that. Today was kind of the last celebratory day of what they’ve accomplished to this point and so to have postseason baseball at Hi Corbett, to be in that position is a tremendous accomplishment. I think we’re more than deserving of that number and that seed. Yeah, it could have been one better, could have been one worse, but they hire other people to decide those things.”
Johnson mentioned that while the regular season accomplishments are phenomenal, it is now all about the preparation for the three teams the Wildcats will be playing this weekend.
"Now it is just about the play and it is about the preparation, and that’s my sweet spot and my comfort zone,” Johnson said. “Mine and my staff’s strength, so we’ll put our work on that to this point forward, but I’m proud of the players.”
The Wildcats securing a top-8 seed means they have the chance to host the NCAA Super Regional at Hi Corbett Field should they advance past the Regional this weekend. The home field advantage and playing at your home ballpark can make a huge difference, especially when it comes to your daily routine and overall familiarity.
“I think it’s enormous,” Johnson said. “I think it’s validation of a job well done to the season which we already know that. I think I take a lot of pride in how we play at Hi Corbett Field and I know our players do as well. I think there’s some benefits of staying in routine a little bit, and it’s a great home field advantage. We want to run this thing as hard and as far as we possibly can and there’s no place I’d rather do that than our home ballpark.”
This Arizona team might not have much tournament experience, but Johnson is not concerned about that factor with it being a couple years since the tournament was even last played.
“[I'm not concerned] this year because nobody in the country has played in the NCAA Tournament in the last two years,” Johnson said.
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This is not an easy region for the Wildcats. Oklahoma State has an RPI of 14, the second highest of any non-seeded team. The Cowboys fell to TCU in the Big 12 Conference championship game. Arizona is of course very familiar with Grand Canyon, having played them twice in the regular season, and UC Santa Barbara has made the tournament in five of the last eight years.
“It’s a great field, and it’s to be expected,” Johnson said. “I think there were so many teams in contention for bids, you knew you were going to end up with three good opponents. That is not a surprise to me at all when looking at the teams.”
Despite having played Grand Canyon twice this season, those were mid-week games where teams generally throw out different pitchers. Johnson is preparing completely from scratch to play against the Antelopes this weekend.
“I mean, you’re going to face a different pitcher,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s pitching staff in the opening game of the tournament, all hands will be on deck. They play four-game weekends, so their four starters will figure into the bullpen mix for Friday, like I said, with their entire team. I’ll go back to the drawing board and start over.”
The Pac-12 teams got six teams in the tournament, which Johnson believed was going to happen from the start.
“I thought it was a lock,” Johnson said. “I really did. I think even a team like Cal had the personnel and the talent to do it. It was just a hard job for the committee this year. Not all schedules were created equal, not all seasons were created equal, not all fall practices were created equal, so I kind of watched the show with great interest this year of like it was going to be a little different and it probably was.”
The Wildcats will begin their 40th NCAA Tournament on Friday, June 4 at 7 p.m. MST with a game against Grand Canyon. The game will be shown live on ESPN3.
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