In the past three games, Arizona coach Andy Lopez has seen a few things from his club that he hasn’t seen all season.
“Some life,” the coach said. “I saw it this weekend: A little bit of competitiveness and fire. We’re starting to play pretty sound baseball. It’s not always clean, but it’s going in the right direction.”
The Wildcats have won three straight games following a 10-9 non-conference win at Arizona State on Wednesday night. They still sit at 15-19 on the season, but might have finally given their coach a few things to work with.
“I think everyone was finally just fed up with losing,” sophomore center fielder Scott Kingery said. “We know we have the stuff in us to win ballgames. We all finally figured out that if we play our game and get those clutch hits and play with a little fight, we can take down those good teams.”
Kingery and the Wildcats will need those clutch hits and that fight starting tonight. The defending national champion UCLA Bruins are in town for a three-game series that opens at 7 p.m. The UA hasn’t taken a conference series from the Bruins since 2005, dropping the last eight.
UCLA enters tonight’s game with an 18-13 mark and 6-3 record in the Pac-12. But after being the hunted all of last season following their 2012 national title, the Wildcats get to be the hunters for the next three games.
“Last year it felt like all the teams we played were a little extra juiced to play us because we won it all the year before and now we get to play with that this weekend,” said James Farris, tonight’s starting pitcher. “We have to bring the fire. That’s one of the things we’ve been saying lately. If we do that, I think we can play a good series.”
The set between the Bruins and Wildcats will mark the first time since 2004 that the last two national champions have met in the regular season. Then, it was Texas and Rice playing in two midweek games and in a tournament.
“I’d go to the game, even if I wasn’t a baseball fan,” Lopez said. “’Who won a national championship in 2012? Arizona. Who won it last year? UCLA. Oh, they’re playing this weekend? Let’s go see that game. Records or no records, let’s go see.’”
The Wildcats probably wish there were no records attached. Even with their recent mini-surge, the UA still faces an uphill climb in the weeks ahead.
After this weekend’s series against UCLA, Arizona still has a three-game series left against Arizona State at home, as well as road sets at Oregon, California and USC.
“We need to keep playing with that momentum and energy that we have going,” Kingery said. “We’re not too worried about the big picture right now, we’re just trying to win some games.”
Kingery, a sophomore from Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School, certainly hasn’t been one of the problems for the UA — even during their struggles.
The center fielder leads the Pac-12 with a .409 batting average at 52 for 127. He’s also the conference leader in stolen bases (15) and runs scored (32). He’s in the top 10 in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, RBIs, doubles, triples, walks and hit by pitches. If that wasn’t enough, he also hit his first career home run on Wednesday in the win over ASU.
“His work ethic is A+,” Lopez said. “He has athletic ability. He’s a talented player and he’s having a great season.”