BASEBALL

Arizona baseball: Relaxed Cats get their guest list

2012-05-29T00:00:00Z 2012-05-29T00:32:26Z Arizona baseball: Relaxed Cats get their guest listRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Bracketology is a young man's game, better left to those with eyes to scoreboard-watch and stomachs made of steel.

Sometimes, however, the long process can be strangely stress-free.

The Arizona Wildcats watched the NCAA baseball tournament selection show Monday morning with a collective shrug and a can-you-believe-this smile. Coach Andy Lopez didn't tune in at all; he was at Safeway, buying tangerines.

The UA was awarded an NCAA regional hosting bid on Sunday, hours before winning its first conference championship in 20 years.

Monday, the Wildcats simply waited for opponents to come to them. The stress of traveling and adjusting is somebody else's, for once.

"It's kind of like getting your finals done. You get a big weight off your shoulders," said ace Kurt Heyer, who, like the rest of the Wildcats, spent his last two regionals in Texas.

"What matters is that we're staying home. And a lot of teams that thought they were hosting are now going somewhere else."

Consider Arizona's three opponents in the double-elimination series, which begins this weekend at Hi Corbett Field:

• Fourth-seeded Missouri will face the UA at 8 p.m. Friday following a whirlwind few weeks. The Tigers won the Big 12 tournament Sunday in Oklahoma City, then returned to Columbia, Mo., to celebrate. They were rewarded Monday with a 1,361-mile trek to Tucson.

• Third-seeded Louisville traveled to Pittsburgh and Clearwater, Fla. the last two weekends with hopes of landing an at-large bid. They'll travel to Tucson this week, covering 1,700-plus miles by plane.

• Second-seeded New Mexico State spent the month of May shuttling between Las Cruces and Honolulu, Albuquerque, San Jose, Calif., and Mesa. Despite losing in the Western Athletic Conference tournament, the Aggies earned an at-large bid.

Arizona (38-17) will stay at home. But in many ways, no team in the bracket has traveled further.

The Wildcats missed the NCAA Regionals in 2009, damaged by a poor finish and a group of players that fifth-year senior Bobby Brown called "toxic."

Lopez told his 2009 squad he wouldn't coach them in the postseason, even if they made it. Instead, the Wildcats' coach said, he'd fly to Los Angeles, visit his father's grave, and chide him.

"Because, dad, you lied to me," Lopez said. "You told me that if you worked hard and were good to people, it'd all fall into place."

The Wildcats got their share of good people - and players - the following year, when the core of this year's team enrolled as freshmen. With Kurt Heyer pitching and Robert Refsnyder, Joey Rickard, Alex Mejia and Seth Mejias-Brean occupying the middle of the batting order, the Wildcats fast became contenders again.

They earned a No. 3 seed in the 2010 Fort Worth regional. Last year brought a trip to College Station, a No. 2 seed and a winner-take-all game the Wildcats narrowly lost.

Now that they're a No. 1, and playing at home, the rebuilding process is complete. Seven of the Wildcats' nine starting hitters and all three of their starting pitchers enter this weekend's games with postseason experience. Arizona's juniors have played in nine career regional games.

Let everybody else stress.

"It's crazy, huh?" Refsnyder said. "The progression from the freshman to sophomore to junior year has really helped. Hopefully, all this experience will help us get to Omaha."

UA's Heyer, Field earn Pac-12 weekly laurels

The Arizona Wildcats swept the Pac-12's weekly awards Monday, one day after clinching a share of the conference championship and defeating rival Arizona State with a walk-off hit.

Ace Kurt Heyer was named the league's pitcher of the week, while Johnny Field - who won Sunday's game with a ninth-inning RBI single - was named player of the week.

Heyer threw a complete-game shutout in the UA's 1-0 win over ASU Friday night, lowering his season ERA to 2.03.

Field had six hits in the weekend series, and secured the Pac-12 batting title. He also scored three runs to give him a conference-best 59 on the season; the sophomore is also tops in the Pac-12 in on-base percentage (.494) and walks (39).

Tucson regional

Friday's games, at Hi Corbett Field

• Game 1: No. 3 Louisville (39-20) vs. No. 2 New Mexico State (35-22), 4 p.m.

• Game 2: No. 4 Missouri (32-26) at No. 1 Arizona (38-17), 8 p.m.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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