Greg Hansen: Cats still recovering from bad luck on recruiting trail

2014-05-27T00:00:00Z 2014-05-27T00:07:37Z Greg Hansen: Cats still recovering from bad luck on recruiting trailGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The fleeting nature of college baseball is such that 2013 national champion UCLA lost 10 consecutive games this month and finished 25-30-1.

The Bruins were so bad they went 11-20 at home.

Arizona, which won the 2012 national title, was even worse. The Wildcats finished 22-33, their worst season since 1996. Do you know what happened in ’96? UA coach Jerry Kindall, who was 61, retired.

Kindall said he didn’t have the energy to reconstruct a program he coached to three NCAA titles. In Kindall’s final three seasons, Arizona went 59-107-1.

It still seems hard to believe.

Current UA coach Andy Lopez, who is a few months removed from heart surgery, turns 61 in November. If he quits, I’ll eat my notepad.

College baseball isn’t necessarily a young man’s game. No. 1 Oregon State is coached by 55-year-old Pat Casey. Fourth-ranked Florida State is coached by 70-year-old Mike Martin. It’s not about age.

Lopez didn’t lose his touch or his drive. That’s not it at all. He lost the 2014 season on November 16, 2011: letter-of-intent day, when his 14-man recruiting class became one of the all-time busts in UA baseball history.

It’s always about recruiting.

As good as Lopez’s recruiting class of 2009 was — Kurt Heyer, Alex Mejia, Robert Refsnyder, Joey Rickard, Seth Mejias-Brean — his class of 2012, this year’s sophomores, was dreadful.

Touted Illinois pitcher Ryan Koziol is now playing at Gulf Coast State in Florida. Coveted right-hander Brady Lail is now pitching for the Class-A Charleston RiverDogs of the South Atlantic League.

California pitcher Jesse Scholtens, who pitched five high school no-hitters, is playing for Diablo Valley College (Calif.). Pitcher Nick Hynes is 0-2 for Riverside Community College (Calif.), and four-star Illinois pitching prospect Kevin Elder plays for Iowa Western College.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg that sank the 2014 Wildcats.

Infielder Jackson Willeford, perhaps the jewel of the class, wrecked his arm after hitting .042 as a freshman. He’s still out. Outfielder Samuel Brown of Seattle is hitting .286 at Gonzaga. Texas pitcher Dalton Brown, ranked as high as No, 56 overall in the class of 2012, has pitched 20 innings for Texas Tech this season.

When you have that much attrition and that many blown evaluations, it diminishes the contributions of shortstop Kevin Newman and outfielder Zach Gibbons, two serviceable Pac-12 sophomores.

Of the eight pitchers Lopez signed in November 2011, the “big” winner is Cody Moffett, who went 2-2 in 30 innings this year.

College baseball is hard. Really, really hard.

The transient nature of each team’s roster, spreading 11.7 scholarships over a 25-man roster and trying to keep everyone happy, is a wobbly balancing act unlike those Sean Miller and Rich Rodriguez face.

It might be more difficult to be NCAA tournament-good year after year than in any college sport.

Fresno State won the 2008 College World Series and went 12-12 in the woeful WAC a year later. The Bulldogs have gone a cumulative 35-43 in conference play the last three seasons under the same coach, Mike Batesole, who was a national champ six years ago.

Oregon State shocked the college baseball world, winning the national title in 2006 and 2007. But in 2008 and 2010, the Beavers finished eighth in the Pac-10.

When Kindall coached Arizona to the 1980 national championship, he required time to rebuild and return to Omaha. His next four UA teams went a composite 109-110-1 and failed to play in the NCAA tournament.

But by 1986, he won his third College World Series.

Lopez was further burned this year when the few remaining players from the 2012 World Series championship went flat. Outfielder Joseph Maggi hit .326 as a freshman, then .195 this year. Catcher Riley Moore dropped from .301 as a freshman All-American to .247 as a junior. Pitcher James Farris, who went 7-3 for the national champs, was just 6-6 this season.

This season was, as they say in the movies, a perfect storm. Damage everywhere.

As a 1970s shortstop at UCLA, Lopez was one of the few standouts (a ninth-round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers) on two crummy Bruin teams — 14-22 in the old Pac-8. Once he left, the Bruins replaced him with All-Conference shortstop Rich Henderson and won the league championship.

Andy Lopez? Who’s that?

The game moves on. Andy Lopez has always bounced back.

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

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