Arizona will earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament if it wins the Pac-12 Tournament.
Could the Wildcats make it even if they don’t?
It’s not likely. But it might not be impossible.
Arizona climbed into the top 50 in RPI after defeating Oregon State 13-12 Wednesday to advance to the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, which are slated for Friday at Scottsdale Stadium. D1Baseball.com listed the streaking Wildcats among its “first four out.”
The Cats went 12-18 in the Pac-12 during the regular season. If you count their two wins in the conference tournament — and their 20-0 victory over Arizona State in a non-conference game — they’d be 15-18.
The NCAA selection committee hasn’t looked kindly on sub-.500 Pac-12 teams since the league expanded. Heck, Arizona went 15-14 in league play in 2019 and didn’t make it.
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Those Wildcats, who ended the season with a 10-game winning streak, would’ve relished the opportunity to play in a conference tournament. The Pac-12 finally launched one last year.
“We still have some work to do,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “We want to win this tournament. That’s why we came here.”
“I don’t know,” added shortstop Nik McClaughry. “We’re just trying to win this whole thing. … That’s all we care about.”
No. 8 seed Arizona will face No. 1 Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday. The Cardinal squandered a two-run lead in the ninth inning and lost to No. 6 seed Oregon 8-6 in 10 innings late Thursday night. Oregon will face No. 3 seed Washington at 7 p.m. The championship game is at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Stanford has been Arizona’s postseason nemesis the last two years.
In 2021, the Cardinal eliminated the Wildcats from the College World Series with a 14-5 victory in Omaha.
Last season, when the Pac-12 Tournament used a double-elimination format, Stanford beat Arizona twice by scores of 15-8 and 5-4. (The UA made the NCAA Tournament anyway as an at-large team.)
The Cardinal, who have a chance to earn a coveted top-eight national seed in the NCAA Tournament, took two of three from the Wildcats during the regular season. Arizona’s lone win: That zany 21-20 game in the series finale.
‘You got this’
UA reliever Chris Barraza executed a Houdini-like escape in the ninth inning vs. OSU. After putting runners on first and third with no outs in a tie game, Barraza retired the next three batters.
The infield convened on the mound during that inning, and McClaughry revealed the gist of the group’s conversation.
“You gotta try to slow yourself down in big moments,” McClaughry said. “It’s easy to be in control of yourself in the first inning. But it’s important to be in control of yourself in the ninth inning.
“I was telling Barraza when he was on the mound: ‘Just slow yourself down. Have fun. You got this. That’s all you gotta do. You gotta take a deep breath and get to the next pitch.’”
McClaughry said Arizona’s mental fortitude was the biggest factor in beating the Beavers. The Wildcats overcame a four-run first-inning deficit. They scored in each of the first six innings. When they fired blanks in the seventh and eighth, OSU took advantage, scoring two runs in each inning to tie the score.
“I was just telling everyone (in) the eighth inning, ‘The toughest team’s gonna win today,’” McClaughry said. “I thought we did a great job of being a tough team and not letting the two zeroes we had in the seventh and eighth inning define us.”
OSU coach Mitch Canham could have intentionally walked Chase Davis in the bottom of the ninth inning with runners on first and third with one out. Putting a second runner in scoring position wouldn’t have made any difference, and loading the bases would have set up a force at home.
But if you walk Davis, you have to face Kiko Romero. The former is the Pac-12 home run leader; the latter is its RBI leader.
After Davis hit into a fielder’s choice, Romero laced the winning single up the middle.
“To hit behind Chase is so important,” Hale said. “That’s why they couldn’t walk him; they couldn’t walk Chase. They didn’t want to face Kiko in that situation. It just shows how good of a hitter he is.”
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at email@example.com. On Twitter: @michaeljlev