It is just another game for the majority of the Arizona baseball players and coaches but not for pitching coach Nate Yeskie, who faces Oregon State for the first time since spending 11 seasons coaching the Beavers in Corvallis.
Arizona head coach Jay Johnson was previously in a familiar situation when he played San Diego for the first time after coaching them from 2006-13, so he knows how emotional of a time it can be.
“I think it’s something I just tried to take a lot of pride in,” Johnson said. “When I was at Nevada in 2015, we won the Mountain West conference championship, San Diego won the West Coast Conference championship, and you know you have high-level relationships on both sides of it. Obviously [Yeskie] has done a great job here in coaching our guys and developing them, and he recruited a lot of those guys and coached some of them at Oregon State. We’re real people, so there’s feelings and those kinds of things, but he is a pro and knows what the task is, and we’ll manage that well.”
As has been the case all season, this Wildcats team continues to show tremendous resilience as they ride a four-game winning streak after losing a tough series against Stanford. As Arizona heads into a crucial road series against Oregon State, who arguably boasts one of, if not the, best pitching staff in the Pac-12 conference, the common theme among the clubhouse continues to be sticking to the same approach they have rolled with all season.
“It is going to be a really exciting game,” Mac Bingham said. “We just have to be ourselves. We got to control the strike zone and see the pitches, use our eyes and slow the game down for sure. We just got to be ourselves out there.”
Arizona faces one of the best pitching staffs in the conference at just the right time with the NCAA Tournament right around the corner where the Wildcats will surely face off against some of the top pitching talents in the country.
“It is extremely helpful,” Bingham said. “As a competitor, you want to face the best, and that’s what we are about to be facing right now. It’s important to get us ready, but you want to focus on now. And the coaches preach about focusing on the present, that pitch, that at-bat, so we’re just focusing on this weekend.”
While the Beavers pitching staff leads the conference in strikeouts, their hitters on the other hand also lead the conference in strikeouts as a group. Despite the clear weakness at hand all season for Oregon State’s lineup, the pitching staff will still be entering this weekend’s series with the same mindset they have had all season.
“I’m going to stick to my game plan,” TJ Nichols said. “I know that’s what [Johnson] is telling all of our pitchers to do is stick to your game plan, be competitive and just be yourself.”
After battling an illness that seemed to have an effect on his performance on the mound, Nichols is back to full strength and has really turned it around over his last few appearances in his new role out of the bullpen. After opening up the season as a starter, Nichols said he understands what his new role entails and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
“I like them both,” Nichols said in response to which role he likes better between being a starter and reliever. “They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I feel like I’m more successful out of relief right now, and I’m helping the team win more, so that’s what I want, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Wildcats will head to Corvallis for the team’s final Pac-12 series of the season this weekend. The first pitch of game one on Friday, May 21 is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST.
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