If you’re a University of Arizona baseball fan hoping for another national title, and you believe in good omens…you’ll like this.
The Wildcats were chosen yesterday to host the NCAA regional tournament, which was just more good news after beating No. 16 Arizona State two out of three games over the weekend to secure a share of the Pac-12 title.
Those aren’t the omens, just the facts.
Here are the good omens:
When Arizona won the national championship in 1980, the post-season run began with a sweep of the NCAA West Regional – which was held in Tucson.
AND the last time current head coach Andy Lopez won a national championship, he was at Pepperdine University. The Waves started their march to the title by winning… yep, the Tucson Regional. (Thanks to the UA media guys for the historical info)
The 13th-ranked Wildcats will be making their eighth post-season appearance in the last 10 years, and the third consecutive. But it will be the first time since 1992 that they have hosted a regional tournament.
Yesterday, they pulled out a win against ASU in the bottom of the ninth when Johnny Field slashed a single to left to score Riley Moore from third to break the 7-7 tie and earn the series win.
UA won the first game, 1-0, and the Sun Devils came back to win the next, 9-7. That comeback win for ASU also came down to the final out of the final inning and wouldn’t have been possible if Jake Barrett had not been able to strike out the final UA hitter with bases loaded to end the game.
Barrett came into the game in the ninth to relieve the Devil starter, Trevor Williams, who posted his conference-high 12th win of the season.
It was that kind of series between two intense rivals – just what the 14,055 fans who showed up at Hi Corbett Field for the three games had expected.
The final game took almost four hours to complete, as the two teams piled up 27 hits, with ASU holding the edge with 14.
Each of the starters for Arizona contributed a hit in the game, including two from Field, the leading hitter in the Pac-12 with a .379 batting average. Abe Ruiz had three hits and four RBIs for ASU.
Yesterday’s win marked Arizona’s first conference series victory in four years against ASU and the conference title was the first for Lopez in his 11 years as the skipper. They will share it this year with UCLA, which beat USC shortly after the Arizona game finished, to tie the Wildcats’ 20-10 conference mark.
It has been a grind at times for Lopez, who has been trying to return the Arizona program to the national prominence it enjoyed under his predecessor, Jerry Kindall, who won three conference titles during his 24 years as head coach.
The Cats have been playing for years in the shadow of their rivals to the north, as Arizona State has enjoyed the lion’s share of the spotlight. The Sun Devils finished the season with a 36-20 record to post its 50th straight 30-win season – the longest current streak in Division I baseball.
But this year, ASU will have to sit and watch as the Wildcats move on. The Sun Devils aren’t eligible for post-season play due to a ban imposed by the NCAA for violations that occurred before Tim Esmay took over the program a few years back.
Arizona’s road back to the College World Series will begin Friday at Hi Corbett against Missouri. The Wildcats (38-17) are the top seed in the regional and Missouri (32-26) is the No. 4 seed.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)