After sweeping the Tucson Regional this past weekend, the Arizona baseball team is back in the Super Regional for the first time since the 2016 season, the same year the Wildcats last made the College World Series. Arizona will host Ole Miss this weekend at Hi Corbett Field in a best-of-three series for a trip to the 2021 College World Series.
It might be tough to remember at times, but these are college kids at the end of the day. Arizona head coach Jay Johnson understands that and wanted to take time to let everyone celebrate the successes of this past weekend before getting back to work to prepare for Ole Miss.
“It was really important for me that they got to enjoy being a regional champion on Sunday,” Johnson said. “We talked about that. I think if you don’t stop for a second, you can somewhat lose track of why are you putting in all of the work, and so that was important. I think that they did that, and then [Monday] in our communication, it was pretty simple. One thing this team has done good all year is move forward, and it has been a theme.”
Johnson went on to bring up different points of the season where this Arizona team had successes all year, which included the sweep of the Frisco Classic, and as a unit, they were able to move forward to the next opponent instead of letting it get to their heads. This team has a great mix of young talent with veterans who have been on this team for a few years now, so it has been evident since day one that they all respected each other and worked well together.
Unlike the Wildcats who swept their regional this past weekend, the Rebels had a bit more trouble in the region that they hosted as they just barely got by Southern Mississippi 12-9 this past Monday to clinch the region. Despite having an extra day of rest and playing at home, Johnson does not believe Ole Miss is at any kind of disadvantage entering this weekend’s play.
“I think it is postseason baseball with two of the best teams in the country,” Johnson said. “You can’t be one of the best teams in the country if you don’t have tough-minded, resilient players that are talented. In 2016, we had that and were that way. I don’t expect them to be any different in that regard and haven’t really given much thought to that.”
When reminiscing back to the 2016 season when Johnson last coached the Wildcats into a Super Regional series, his first thought went to Bobby Dalbec and his performance for the Wildcats against Mississippi State.
“[Dalbec], that pitching performance was special,” Johnson said with a smile. “I give him a hard time. It’s great to see him be a successful major leaguer. I just told him a long time ago that he would have been there two years quicker if he decided to pitch because performance is like that.”
In that best-of-three series which Arizona wound up sweeping, Dalbec pitched in the first game, tossing allowing just five hits over 8.2 shutout innings with nine strikeouts and two walks en route to a 1-0 win for Arizona. In game two the next day which Arizona won 6-5 in 11 innings, Dalbec went 2-for-4 with a home run. He was a true all-around player, helping the Wildcats in all facets of the game, but especially on the mound in that first game.
When comparing this year’s pitching staff as a group to past years, the control and composure of the group as a whole was quite evident. The Wildcats pitchers combined to walk just two batters in the three games they played this weekend, both of them coming in the final game on Sunday. Given how far they have come from just a few years ago, Johnson believed it was only a matter of time till these players he recruited showed what they are truly capable of on the mound.
“I knew we had really good pitchers coming,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s hard to really see that when you’re going through a situation like  where we were Texas Tech or Oklahoma football scoring 60 [points] and giving up 50 [points]. I had faith that we would be better.”
Johnson went on to mention a few of the current pitchers in Garrett Irvin, Chandler Murphy and Dawson Netz where he mentioned them all as strike throwers.
“Having these guys in the pipeline, I had great confidence,” Johnson said. “It just took them a little while to get here. [Murphy] committed after we played for the national championship. That was 2016. He didn’t pitch a game for us until 2020 because he was a freshman, so those are just some of the elements that behind the scenes you know about. If you’re not in tune with that kind of stuff you don’t know about. I don’t know if I would say I was surprised. I was confident that we would get better on the mound the longer time went here, and I think last weekend was a good reflection of that because this group has gotten better throughout the year too.”
The Wildcats will be hosting the Rebels this weekend in the Super Regionals at Hi Corbett Field with game one taking place on Friday at 6 p.m. MST, game two taking place on Saturday at 7 p.m. MST and Sunday’s game three if necessary taking place at 6 p.m. MST.
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