UA BASEBALL

Arizona baseball: With backs to wall, Cats face Sun Devils

2013-05-17T00:00:00Z Arizona baseball: With backs to wall, Cats face Sun DevilsDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats' 2013 struggles can be summed up in the six words uttered by coach Andy Lopez this week.

"It's hard to do the expected," the coach of the defending College World Series champions said.

The Wildcats will take the field in Tempe tonight against Arizona State trying to do the unexpected - maybe even the unthinkable.

Sitting at 29-20 overall and 10-14 in the Pac-12, Lopez's team has to - at worst - win five of of its last six games to even be under consideration for the NCAA tournament. A sweep of the 13th-ranked Sun Devils (33-15-1) would be a start.

"We have to put some pressure on ourselves," junior center fielder Johnny Field said. "We have to win all six or five of six. That's the bottom line. Now it's time to go to work."

Arizona's struggles can be traced to a lot of areas.

The most obvious place to start is with the starting pitching. Konner Wade and James Farris have combined to go 2-10 in Pac-12 games this season. Wade, who will move back into the Friday night starter role after getting the Saturday nod last weekend at UCLA, carries a 5.54 ERA in league games. Farris, in 46 Pac-12 innings pitched, is at 4.70.

So that's one problem.

Closer Mat Troupe has also struggled in conference play, sporting an ERA of 5.14.

The defense has been shoddy at times, including last weekend against the Bruins. The UA's 50 errors rank near the middle of the pack in the conference.

A third issue has crept up for the Wildcats, and it was hard to see this one coming.

Their bats have gone cold.

Over their last six games, the UA has scored just 13 runs. The Wildcats, who still rank first in the league with a .300 batting average, have scored two or fewer runs in four of their last six games.

The struggles have come from the unlikeliest candidates.

The top three hitters in the lineup - Field, second baseman Trent Gilbert and third baseman Brandon Dixon - are a combined 10 for 64 (.156) over the last six games, and have combined for just two RBIs.

In that span, Field has seen his average drop 31 points. Gilbert's has plummeted 27 points and Dixon's 14.

"I haven't gotten a lot of good pitches to hit and when I have, I've been missing them," Field said.

Added Dixon: "There have been times I've been up at the plate and I'm trying to do too much instead of just getting a base hit. I've been getting a lot of off-speed (pitches), which has been a problem because I've been chasing those pitches rather than waiting for a good one to hit."

The goal for all three hitters this weekend is simple: Relax, try to have some fun and let the game come to them.

The Wildcats are 2-8 in their last 10 conference games. Players say the pressure of making the postseason as the defending national champions has gotten the best of them at times.

"I find myself trying to do too much at the plate and trying to carry the team, and that's when I get in trouble," Field said. "That's what I've been doing the last two weekends. When I'm going good, I'm slowing the game down and putting a good at-bat together pitch by pitch."

If making the postseason somehow isn't enough motivation for the Wildcats, they have something else to play for this weekend.

The Territorial Cup - a season-long battle between the two athletic departments - is tied at 8 1/2. The team that wins this weekend series will take the cup for its school.

"It's always fun to play them and play them at their place because it's an intense environment," Dixon said. "You try to keep emotions out, but everyone is excited for it."

The Series

• What: Arizona at Arizona State, three-game series

• Where: Tempe

• Schedule: Today at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 6:30 p.m., Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

• Radio: All games on 1290-AM

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

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

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