After a dominating 3-0 sweep in the Tucson Regional, the No. 5 Arizona baseball team will remain home for the Tucson Super Regional where they will face Ole Miss. The Wildcats are on fire on both ends of the field, especially defense. Arizona outscored their opponents in the Tucson Regional 19-8. Everything from diving catches and double plays is what makes this defense lethal. Even with their stellar play, second baseman Kobe Kato feels they can get even better.
“I always feel like there is room for improvement,” Kato said. “I could always take one more step in getting better at the position I play. As of now I am just going to do what I need to do to help the team win and whenever there is time to work on a skillset that is what I am going to do.”
Kato is a special player, but he also has a special background. Kato was born in Aiea, Hawai'i, a state thought of more for tourism than baseball. Kato wants to change the narrative about his home state and let everyone know that baseball players can come from anywhere.
“It is a small island, and it makes the number of athletes coming out of Hawai'i that much smaller,” Kato said. “Being able to represent my hometown and the people that are from Hawai'i really means a lot. There are some stars hidden in [Hawai'i] and being able to be on a big stage like this has been very special.”
Many Wildcats are having a special year, including center fielder Donta’ Williams. Just last week in the Tucson Regional, Williams reached base safely in his 44th straight game. He also had a few highlight catches that saved runs and extra base hits. Williams was heavily recruited out of high school but had a simple reason for why he chose Arizona.
“I just wanted to play baseball at a winning program,” Williams said. “I am glad I landed here, and I finally get to take up that dream. I am very blessed and proud to be in this situation with my teammates.”
Arizona will have home field advantage in the Super Regionals, but Williams knows that taking a break against a team such as Ole Miss is not an option.
“They are competitive,” Williams said. “It is not going to be easy, so we just have to stick to our plan and approach. We cannot get outside of ourselves and play different or have a different approach going into this weekend.”
With the winning formula that Arizona has found, it would make sense to not want to change anything. Head coach Jay Johnson believes this but did note the team is working just as hard.
“We have done a lot more preparation since [regionals,]” Johnson said. “My initial impressions of [Ole Miss] are they have a good lineup, they hit for power, and they hit mistake [pitches] well. They are well balanced at the plate and the mound. We feel like we have learned a lot in the last week … and I really believe that two of the best teams in college baseball are on the field this weekend.”
This is the first super regional for the Wildcats since 2016, meaning that none of Johnson’s players have ever been in this situation. Nevertheless, Johnson has full confidence in his squad regardless of their lack of experience.
“They have the blueprint for what it takes to play well in any kind of baseball game,” Johnson said. “That is where we have put our mindset and I have complete trust them to continue to do that.”
Arizona will face Ole Miss in a best of three series in the Tucson Super Regional at Hi Corbett Field beginning on Friday, June 11 at 6 p.m. MST.
Follow Sean Fagan on Twitter