Despite not having played in the NCAA Tournament before, Arizona baseball outfielder Donta' Williams views this upcoming weekend’s regional action as just another game.
"It is baseball, we’re going out there," Williams said. "We got to play the same nine innings, whatever, however many we play. Catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball, so nothing changes, mentality [or] preparation. We just got to stay the course and keep doing what we got to do to get better on a daily basis.”
Williams and Arizona manager Jay Johnson have a long history together, dating back as far as to when Williams was just in high school.
“There is nobody I’d rather have up in the box in the first inning of a game including Dexter Fowler, who is kind of like the leadoff hitter,” Johnson said. “He is a great player. Like I said, I think he made a legit run at being the Pac-12 Player of the Year and you can’t convince me that any Pac-12 player was more important to their team’s success this year than [Williams].”
Johnson went on to compare Williams' impact to a wide receiver who scored 25 touchdowns that also played defensive back that had seven interceptions.
“What a great player,” Johnson said. “Great competitor, great mindset and we’re here because of him and we’ll succeed largely in this tournament because of him.”
The Wildcats will begin regional play this weekend against Grand Canyon on Friday, June 4. Despite having playing the Antelopes twice during the regular season, Arizona is going to have to prepare for completely different pitchers this time around. The likely Friday starter for Grand Canyon is Pierson Ohl, who went 10-1 with a 2.36 ERA this season while walking only 12 hitters over 95.1 innings tossed. Ohl is coming off a three-hit shutout against Sacramento State in the WAC semifinals.
“We just need to take good at-bats,” Johnson said on the approach to facing Ohl. “We have a pretty good idea of what we’re trying to do each time we go to the plate, and we just need to stay with that.”
One of the advantages the Wildcats will have this weekend will be playing at home in a familiar environment where they can go through their normal routine. Junior pitcher Garrett Irvin believes that playing at home this weekend is going to help the whole team in preparation to play against three tough opponents this weekend.
“I think it is very beneficial,” Irvin said. “It is definitely helpful when from a starting pitchers perspective, you’re driving to the field from your house and you’re just driving to show up to the game about two hours early and then you just get to go to work instead of wake up in a hotel bed that you’re not used to sleeping in and going to the field with the rest of the team. I think with everyone, it is definitely an advantage to have a homefield advantage. I am definitely blessed, and I think we’re all very excited to play this week at our own field and have our fans behind us each game no matter if we’re playing at the night or in the day. Tucson is a great place.”
Despite playing at home, Hi Corbett Field is expected to be packed with people, but Irvin isn’t afraid of himself or the team falling under the pressure. In fact, he believes this team plays better when the pressure is on.
“I think we tend to play better when the pressure is on,” Irvin said. “Like [Nate] Yeskie said, ‘Pressure is a privilege’ so we’re definitely excited to have all the fans out there. I think us as a team, our offense and defense, I think we tend to play better when the pressure is on and when people are yelling and screaming.”
The Wildcats will be hosting the Antelopes on Friday with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. MST at Hi Corbett Field, or the “Juice box” as Williams referred to it as with some of the players referring to the field as “Hi C.”
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