UA BASEBALL

Arizona Baseball: More practice means more wins for UA

2013-04-12T00:00:00Z Arizona Baseball: More practice means more wins for UADaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The key to the Arizona Wildcats' recent six-game winning streak is simple.

It's been all about - look away, Allen Iverson - practice.

During the team's first month of the season, the Wildcats could only practice once a week. With five games every seven days, Thursday was the only practice day, and sessions were short and simple to keep the players fresh.

But the last four weeks, Wildcats coach Andy Lopez has been able to direct three practices a week with no mid-week games on the schedule.

The results took some time to show - the Wildcats were swept by the Oregon schools to start Pac-12 play - but they're showing up now as the UA opens a three-game set tonight at Washington State.

"This is exactly what the doctor ordered," said Lopez of his team, which sits at 21-11 and 6-6 in conference. "This is what we needed. This group needs practice."

But practice at Hi Corbett Field isn't always fun.

"They are really intense," sophomore catcher Riley Moore said. "That's the way 'Lopes' wants it. He yells, he screams, if we mess up, we run. He makes sure he brings out your intensity.

"Then you go into a game, and you can put your hands behind your head, and it's like it's easy."

So what are Arizona baseball practices like? Here's a glimpse:

• The first 20 minutes after stretching: The beginning of practice is always dedicated to execution.

Lopez brings all the offensive players into the batting cage and gives each a different situation.

Whether it's bases loaded with two outs, or runner on first with with one out, something is asked of every batter.

"You get the reps over and over again, and then you start thinking, 'I can do this, I can do this,'" Moore said.

The Wildcats also get back to execution later in practices.

• The next hour: After working in the cages, Lopez always has his team play a five-inning intrasquad game.

But he runs the show.

"It's controlled intrasquad, where I am running the offense," Lopez said. "Even if a guy strikes out, I'll send him to first base, and the next guy will hit with a runner on in a late-game situation.

"We want to put them in every situation we can think of."

For the freshmen, this is a big adjustment. For the veterans, it's the same practice they've been going through for years.

"I think the main difference for us lately has been execution," freshman shortstop Kevin Newman said. "We only had one practice before, and if we were doing something bad, we only had one day to fix it. Now, we have multiple days to work on things and can get stuff corrected."

• The final 45 minutes: After intrasquad, the team goes back to working on execution.

Run producers like Brandon Dixon, Johnny Field and Trent Gilbert are given what Lopez calls "RBI at-bats." Small-ball hitters like Scott Kingery and Zach Gibbons are asked to work on hit-and-run scenarios and sacrifice bunts.

"We'll put them in situations that we think they'll have to succeed in over the weekend for us to succeed," Lopez said.

The coach loves when the practice pays off and solid execution helps his team win a game. He loves it even more when it's a younger player like Newman.

"I used to get excited for me, like 'Oh great, they understand what I'm teaching,'" Lopez said.

"Now I get fired up for them, especially the young guys. When Kevin Newman does exactly what we ask and slashes a double down the line with runners on, I know what he feels like when he's standing on second base, and I knew what he felt like four weeks ago when he didn't do it and had to come back to the dugout."

The Series

• Who: Arizona at Washington St.

• Today: 6 p.m.

• Saturday: 2 p.m.

• Sunday: noon

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk

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