The Arizona Wildcats will start a grueling week of nonconference play tonight, when they open a three-game series at Long Beach State.

But all is not lost - for starters, the UA can close.

Consider: Since 2003, Arizona has won 92 percent of its games (233-20-1) when leading through six innings. The Wildcats were 30-4 in that situation a year ago, and are a 3-0 this season following last weekend's sweep over North Dakota State.

Those numbers would be impressive in the major leagues, where talented arms are seemingly slotted into each inning and situation. In college baseball, a sport tarnished by obscene scoring binges, it's downright staggering.

"When you're getting 90 percent of your wins, that's crazy," UA closer Bryce Bandilla said. "It's a mentality: Step on them. Don't let them come up, don't let them get air."

And, whatever you do, don't let them come back. It's by design.

"That's kind of been our philosophy: Be real good from the sixth inning on," coach Andy Lopez said. "The other guys have to be ahead, or it's going to be over,"

While most college coaches put their three best pitchers in the starting spots and fill the bullpen with inexperienced or struggling players, Lopez has quietly made relief work a glamour position. Three of the Wildcats' former closers - Mark Melancon, Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry - are expected to start the season on major-league rosters.

Their roles will be familiar. Like in the big leagues, Arizona builds its bullpen from the sixth through ninth innings, with options available should Lopez need a left-hander, a ground ball or a strikeout.

While the bullpen likely won't take shape until Pac-10 play, Lopez likes his candidates. Freshmen Konner Wade and Jacob Doyle, both right-handers, could handle the sixth inning. The seventh inning likely belongs to junior left-hander Matt Chaffee, who missed most of the last two seasons due to injuries. Sophomore Nick Cunningham is a former closer who appears set poised to be set-up man.

And then there's Bandilla, who - on measurables alone - is the most intriguing pitcher on staff. The 6-foot-4-inch junior is tall and left-handed. The converted starter can hit 94 mph, and is just beginning to grasp the strike zone.

Bandilla pitched just two-thirds of an inning in last week's three-game sweep of NDSU only because, he said, the games were so lopsided that he wasn't needed.

If Arizona needs him this weekend against Long Beach State, odds are it will spell good news.

"My first blown save last year came against them, on a Friday," he said. "There's a little bit of a revenge factor there."


• What: Arizona at Long Beach St.

• When: 7:30 p.m.

By the numbers


Arizona's record since 2003 when leading after six innings.


Arizona's record in 2010 when leading through six innings


Arizona's record this season when leading through six innings