Back-to-back losses to New Mexico couldn’t have come at a worse time for the University of Arizona baseball team.
The Wildcats have been struggling somewhat lately after enjoying an eight-game winning streak. They split with Rice and then took two of three games from Washington State. And then got shut out by the Aggies.
But they’ve had to come from behind in each of their last four wins, usually pulling the games out in the late innings. They trailed Eastern Michigan going into the eighth inning, didn’t get a lead on Rice until the eighth, and were a run behind Washington State going into the bottom of the seventh.
And then New Mexico took the wood to them in games yesterday and Tuesday in Tucson. The Aggies won the first game, 7-4, and then came back to sweep the series by piling up 16 hits in a 13-8 victory.
And now, the next six games will be against nationally-ranked opponents.
Oregon State is up next. The Beavers are a team moving up, while Arizona is trending down in two polls. And, to make matters worse, the three-game series will be played in Corvallis.
(*Upate: The Cats couldn’t pull off a sweep, but did win the series. They weren’t able to take their usual late-game comeback far enough in the opener, as OSU broke a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the ninth for the 6-5 win. Arizona won the next two games, 5-4 and 7-5. In today’s finale, James Farris pitched the first eight innings and Mathew Troupe closed out the final four outs for the save, pitching through a steady rain and temperatures in the 40s.)
OSU (14-5) is ranked No. 19 by Baseball America, up from No. 25. They’re also rising in the NCAA rankings, up three places to No. 25, and have taken an even bigger jump in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, moving up from No. 24 to No. 16.
Arizona (16-6) is No. 5 in Baseball America, actually moving up a notch from the last rankings. But the Cats dropped from 13th to 14th in the NCAA rankings and from ninth to 11th in USA Today/ESPN.
And those rankings were released before the New Mexico games, so expect another drop.
After the trip to Oregon State, the Cats will return home to meet No. 3 Stanford (No. 2 USA Today/ESPN), which has lost just two games so far this season and is averaging better than eight runs a game.
But first there is the road trip to Oregon to start a nasty stretch of games away from home, as the Cats will play seven of the next 10 on the road to continue the early phase of the conference schedule.
There were 32 total runs scored in the New Mexico series just a couple of days ago, and more of the same can be expected in Corvallis. The Beavers won two of three from the Cats in the 2011 series, as the two teams ran up 44 total runs. The Cats won the first game, 18-0, but couldn’t contain OSU for the next two, suffering 10-4 and 8-4 losses.
Kurt Heyer was on the mound for the Cats in the big opening win, when Arizona scored 12 runs in one inning, and pitched a complete game shutout with nine strikeouts. The junior right hander will be counted on again for at least one of the re-matches.
Heyer’s current 1.23 ERA leads the Arizona pitching staff, but Konner Wade has seen the majority of time on the rubber, recording 44 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. The sophomore from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale worked his way into the starting weekend rotation late last season and has been a consistent performer since.
On the offensive side, Alex Mejia will bring his big bat to the party, coming into the OSU series with the team’s top batting average (.393), as well as most hits (35) and most home runs (2). Robert Refsnyder has crossed the plate more than any other Wildcat, 23 times, and Seth Mejias-Brean has accounted for the most runs batted in with 25. Mejias-Brean, a junior infielder, is another local product, a graduate of Cienega High School in Tucson.
The Cats need these wins to get them back on track before welcoming Stanford into their new digs at Hi Corbett Field next week. They have a slight advantage, based on statistics. As a team, Arizona has a better batting average than the Beavers, has more hits and runs on the season, and has the dominant speed on the base paths.
But the Beavers started their conference schedule over the weekend with a three-game sweep of California, during which they put 26 runs on the scoreboard. They’re on a roll.
The Cats will have to find a way to stem the scoring – something they couldn’t do against New Mexico.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)