When Andy Lopez hands out a schedule to his players before each season, the opponent for all 56 games is the same: “The Game.”
The coach’s point is simple: He wants the Wildcats to only focus on themselves.
Of course in reality, some games are tougher than others, and they don’t get much more difficult than the next four on the UA’s schedule.
Lopez and the Wildcats will welcome 2013 Colege World Series runner-up Mississippi State and last year’s NCAA tournament team UC-Santa Barbara this weekend for the Hi Corbett Classic. The Wildcats will play the Bulldogs and the Gauchos twice each; the hosts will open with Mississippi State tonight at 7.
The Bulldogs are ranked 12th in the latest Baseball America Top 25 and unranked Santa Barbara is 7-1 and has won five straight.
“I wish we had a couple more extra days to get ready,” Lopez said. “We’ll squeeze every minute we can out of practice.”
The Wildcats had just one day of preparation following an 11-4 loss to Long Beach State on Wednesday afternoon. It was their fifth straight loss; the team carries a 6-7 mark into this weekend’s four-game challenge.
“If we come out and play like we can, we can put up with those teams and go head-to-head with them,” sophomore third baseman Cody Ramer said. “We can make it a fun weekend if we play our game.”
But what is Arizona’s game right now?
It doesn’t appear to be strong pitching. Wildcats hurlers have given up 121 hits in 122 innings and carry an unimpressive 4.65 ERA, which ranks ninth in the Pac-12.
“We can do a better job on the mound and that starts with me,” said senior James Farris, who is 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA this season.
One glance at the offensive statistics suggests the UA has a strong approach at the plate. The Wildcats lead the conference with a .315 team batting average, and are hitting .287 with runners in scoring position.
But during the team’s five-game losing streak, the bats have been quiet.
- Arizona is just 6 for 42 (.143) with runners in scoring position.
- The Wildcats are even worse hitting with two outs, going 4 for 42 (.095)
- The UA is also hitting just .203 with runners on base.
- The Wildcats have seen the leadoff hitter reach 19 times in 44 innings, the exact same figure as their opponents. However, Lopez’s team has been outscored 38-11 during the skid.
“We’re not putting things together and getting hits when we need them,” sophomore outfielder Zach Gibbons said. “It feels like anytime we need a big hit, we don’t get it.”
Defensively, Arizona’s woes are similar to their problems at the plate. The UA’s .979 fielding percentage is third-best in the Pac-12, but has been shaky lately.
“General defensive play has been a problem,” Lopez said after Wednesday’s loss. “We had second base not covered twice and I’m hard pressed to think of when that’s ever happened.”
And what about Arizona’s upperclassmen? The UA’s three main juniors — Trent Gilbert, Riley Moore and Joe Maggi — are 0 for their last 11 with runners in scoring position. Lopez was asked this week about the leadership from his juniors and wouldn’t bite.
“We’ll get it fixed,” the coach responded.
The UA will have to in a hurry. The schedule may say “The Game” but reality says the Wildcats could be swimming upstream after the weekend.
“I look forward to every challenge, Lopez said. “I’m not a guy that’s used to getting my brains beat out in my coaching life.”