The undefeated Arizona Wildcats baseball team is about to face several new challenges.
Arizona hits the road for the first time this season. The Wildcats will face a higher level of competition. And they will have to deal with the first significant in-season injury since Jay Johnson became coach.
It’s at times like these that structure works in Arizona’s favor. Johnson puts a detailed plan in place each week, no matter where or whom the Wildcats are playing.
“When you take away the uncertainty … that puts everybody’s mind at ease,” Johnson said. “We tend to stay to a pretty strict schedule in terms of details and what we want to accomplish and keeping their mind on the task at hand. They’ll be ready to play.”
Arizona is off to an 8-0 start, having swept four-game series against Eastern Kentucky and McNeese State in the familiar environs of Hi Corbett Field.
With all due respect to the Colonels and Cowboys — who are 8-2 against opponents other than the Wildcats — neither is on the same level as the UA’s first two foes in the Frisco College Baseball Classic.
Arizona opens the three-day tournament in Frisco, Texas, on Friday against Arkansas, which is ranked 20th and 24th, respectively, in the NCBWA and D1Baseball.com Top 25s. (Arizona is ninth and 14th in those polls.)
The Razorbacks are 7-1. Their lone loss came at Louisiana Tech, which is otherwise unbeaten.
Arizona faces Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Cowboys are 4-4 but are a perennial power. Arizona and OSU played each other three times in last year’s College World Series. The Wildcats won the last two to clinch a spot in the finals.
Arizona concludes the Frisco Classic portion of its trip against 2-4 Nebraska before visiting Texas Tech on Tuesday. The Red Raiders are 9-1, including a sweep of Cal, and are ranked 10th by D1Baseball.com.
“All of our players know those are quality programs with quality players, future pro players,” Johnson said. “I’m excited.”
Arizona will be without one of its key players for the foreseeable future.
Senior shortstop Louis Boyd is expected to miss six weeks because of a left-arm injury suffered Sunday against McNeese State. Boyd solidified the Wildcats’ infield defense upon becoming a full-time starter last season and is an important leader on this year’s team, which is breaking in several freshmen.
One of them, Cameron Cannon, likely will get the first crack at shortstop. Cannon, from Glendale Mountain Ridge, has been sharing time at second base with senior Kyle Lewis. Another freshman, Shane Martinez, also will get looks at shortstop, as might Lewis.
Cannon has appeared in six games thus far, batting .368 (7 of 19). He is considered one of the program’s bedrocks, along with third baseman Nick Quintana, outfielder Matt Fraizer, pitcher-first baseman Randy Labaut and Martinez.
Cannon elected to attend Arizona despite being drafted in the 21st round by the Diamondbacks, his hometown team. He cited a desire to grow as a player and person as the main reasons, and he credited his veteran teammates for helping him accomplish that.
Boyd, sophomore catcher Cesar Salazar (who’s rooming with Cannon on this trip) and others have reminded him to relax and stay positive.
“If I strike out or make an error, it’s over; I can’t redo it,” Cannon said.
“It’s easy to be down on yourself. You’ve really got to pick yourself up in those situations. It’s a long season.
“All the guys have been helping me a lot with keeping it slow, having fun. It’s no different from when you played Little League. It’s still baseball.”
Arizona enjoyed relatively good health during its run to the College World Series finals last season. Johnson believes this team has better depth. He has struggled to find regular at-bats for the likes of Fraizer, who homered and tripled in Arizona’s exhibition game against NC Dinos on Tuesday.
“When I took over, the depth thing was, not a concern but something that needed to be addressed,” Johnson said earlier this season. “Last year’s team … we were not in a place where we could withstand many types of injuries. Whereas this year, I really like what we have.”
- All three of Arizona’s games in the Frisco Classic are being streamed on ESPN3. However, Game 1 against Arkansas is subject to blackout in Cox territories. Cox subscribers will be able to see the game on channel 1382.
- Senior left-hander JC Cloney will start against Arkansas. The other starting assignments are to be determined. Cloney (2-0) has not allowed an earned run in 30ª straight innings, dating to the College World Series.
- Cloney and relievers Michael Flynn and Cameron Ming have combined for a 5-0 record and have yet to allow an earned run in 31ª innings.
- Outfielder Mitchell Morimoto has seven multihit games and is batting .469, second best on the team behind Quintana (.500).
- Arizona led the nation in batting average (.378), ranked second in on-base percentage (.477) and ranked sixth in slugging percentage (.566) entering Thursday night’s games. The Wildcats also were tied for first in doubles (30).
- Arizona had drawn the second-most walks (50) and struck out the fewest times (31) in the Pac-12 entering Thursday.