In their last series against No. 12 Stanford, the No. 13 Arizona baseball team did something most have not been familiar with in a while. Lose.
Stanford ended Arizona’s 10-game win streak and six straight Pac-12 series wins. The Wildcats had not lost a Pac-12 series since March 19-21 when they played UCLA in Los Angeles. Even with their series loss, head coach Jay Johnson said he was impressed with how his team played.
“The hallmark on the field for the team has been consistency,” Johnson said. “When I say consistency, I mean in approach and play. When you are in our conference, which I believe is one of the two best leagues in the country, the margin between winning and losing is small, and I think the Stanford series confirmed that.”
Another part of the team that has been consistent throughout the win streak was the relief pitching. This was a major weakness for the team early in the season. The offense would provide a spurt of runs, but then the relievers would go out and have that lead erased in one or two innings. Even though the team lost the Stanford series, the relievers have stepped up in a big way.
“I think the best teacher in baseball is playing time,” Johnson said. “After missing last season, there was a lot of competitive opportunities for development lost that some of those guys had to get under their belt early in the season. We had a tipping point after the Oregon series. We really needed to get guys on track with what their template was for executing pitches and getting outs. They needed to improve, and from that point forward, they have done that.”
One player Johnson raved about was Nik McClaughry. McClaughry was a transfer from community college, and once Johnson watched him play, he knew McClaughry was going to be special.
“I thought [McClaughry] was a great baseball player,” Johnson said. “In my time as a Division I coach in baseball, the best teams that I have had a player like [McClaughry] on them. [Former Wildcat] Kyle Lewis is a great comparison, but I think that [McClaughry] is a better defensive player. [McClaughry’s] baseball acumen and character were things that I was immediately drawn to when I met him.”
Players such as McClaughry have had to fight for the opportunity to play college baseball. Even with high praise from his head coach, the list of schools recruiting McClaughry was not very long.
“It was junior college,” McClaughry said. “I had a couple Division II schools talking to me, but I decided that I was going to junior college to see what I could do, and it was the best decision of my life going to Sacramento City College. It was a great program and it helped prepare me for moments like this here."
One of those moments came on Saturday, May 8, when McClaughry hit a 1-2 pitch for a three-run home run. McClaughry could not believe it.
“I had never hit a home run in high school or college, only in little league,” McClaughry said. “It was surprising, but as soon as I hit it, I knew that it was probably going to go out.”
With the celebrations now over, the Wildcats must turn their attention to Washington. Arizona sits in first place in the Pac-12, and Washington sits in last. McClaughry knows that means nothing, and the team needs to focus if they want to bounce back from their most recent series loss.
“The biggest thing is getting prepared for practice,” McClaughry said. “We have an extra day of practice this week … and I am looking forward to our extra preparations as we get ready to face Washington.”
Arizona will open a three-game series against Washington at Hi Corbett Field on Friday, May 14 at 6 p.m. MST.
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