It was a time of celebration for the Arizona baseball team this past weekend in Corvallis, Oregon, as a comeback 6-5 win over Oregon State on Sunday, May 23 clinched a series win for the Wildcats over the Beavers and at least a share of the Pac-12 championship. It is safe to say the trip back to Tucson for Arizona was a fun one.
“It was awesome,” sophomore Tyler Casagrande said. “We woke up at 4:30 a.m., but I think that was the happiest we’ve all been waking up that early. Obviously, a lot of hard work went into all of it, so we were just pumped up that we could come back to Tucson knowing that we at least clinched a share. We don’t have to really hope for another team to do anything. It was in our hands, and we took advantage of it.”
After beginning the season as a starter in the first series of the season, Casagrande stepped into a reserve role with a few starts mixed into the season. He did not take it too hard, however, understanding what his role was and what a championship caliber team looks like.
“It was easy,” Casagrande said. “I mean, to win a national championship, you need to have 13-14 guys that can contribute to a team. It is not just nine good players, you got to have depth, so I was completely open to whatever my role was throughout the season as long as we were winning. I took advantage of my opportunities when they came.”
“It wasn’t hard,” Casagrande said. “These guys are awesome. It’s been a fun season regardless of my role, so it was easy.”
Casagrande noted how injuries are going to happen, and you have to have guys who will be ready to come off the bench.
“With injuries and stuff like that, you got to have a lot of guys ready to come off the bench,” Casagrande said. “Just being ready when my name is called to help the team any way I can.”
Casagrande reminisced back to the time when his dad used to take him to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. The first year he went was in 2012, the same year the Wildcats last went all the way and the same time Arizona became his dream school.
“My dad took me to Omaha every year when I was growing up,” Casagrande said. “The first year he took me was 2012 when Arizona won the national championship, so from that moment, it was like my dream school.”
This might just be the omen the Wildcats need to get back to the big stage for the first time since 2016.
Arizona has a while before they have a chance to reach that plateau, however, as they prepare to close out the regular season with a three-game series at home against Dixie State.
Coming off such a huge series win over Oregon State, one concern some may have for the Wildcats is overlooking a non-conference opponent like Dixie State, but senior reliever Vince Vannelle understands what is still at stake and has no concerns about the team getting complacent at this point of the season.
“It’s just another opportunity to play and just compete out there because every single time we get behind the lines, we want to compete,” Vannelle said. “I mean I know there’s Donta' [Williams], [Branden] Boissiere, [Ryan] Holgate, all of those guys. They aren’t going to go through the motions out here. I mean, they’re just not those kind of people.”
Arizona head coach Jay Johnson has the same belief, taking his season-long approach of focusing on the moment and not getting ahead of yourself to its fullest degree in this weekend’s series finale.
“Reinforce what has made us successful,” Johnson said. “I think these players take pride in playing well. The pride and maturity of focusing on one game, one pitch at a time. We had a brief conversation of that last night [Tuesday], and we went back to practice and getting ready to go. I actually have zero concerns of that.”
Johnson expects reliever Preston Price to get back on the mound this weekend. He has not played since April 9 due to an injury. Vannelle believes it is huge to get his running mate back at the end of the bullpen.
“It is huge,” Vannelle said. “I mean anytime you get [Price] going, it’s always been an advantage for us. So I mean, I’m excited to watch him throw, and I’m excited to watch him compete this weekend.”
The Wildcats will begin this series against Dixie State on Thursday at Hi Corbett with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. MST. It was recently announced that the attendance heading into this weekend and for the remainder of the season will be at full capacity at the ballpark. Johnson hopes to see as many people as possible attending these games in support of Arizona.
“I want as many people to come out this weekend as possible,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it’s just hardly having anyone at the beginning of the season, but there’s been a couple home games where I’ve just kind of turned my head for a second and then like, wow, it feels like there’s a lot of people there, so that’s awesome. I’m very appreciative to everybody that has come out so far and definitely want to get as many people out there as possible. It’s been a great home-field advantage. The fans are a big part of that, and we want as many as possible.”
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