After you’ve won a national championship, what do you do for an encore?
The University of Arizona baseball coaches began thinking about that last June, right after Robert Refsnyder pulled down the fly ball in the right-field grass of TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha that concluded their quest for the school’s fourth national title, beating defending champion South Carolina in two straight games after marching through the College World Series virtually unchallenged.
And now, 12 games into a new season, the 11th-ranked Wildcats are right on track with last year’s start that eventually culminated with 48 wins and an undefeated run through the post-season. Wins yesterday and today against San Francisco have pushed the Cats’ record to 10-2, an identical start to last season – despite losing six starters from the 2012 edition and having to start an average of three freshmen each game.
They should probably be looking at a one-loss record right now, but were upset last week by Utah Valley, a .500 team from the Great West Conference that snapped the Cats’ 12-game home winning streak at Hi Corbett Field. The Cats’ hitters were still pokin’ the ball, but left 10 potential runs stranded on base.
The Wildcats are using the same formula that served them so well last year: a solid pitching rotation, a stingy defense, and power at the plate.
Last year they had at least one extra-base hit in 64 of their 65 games and averaged three a game. Four of that team’s top five hitters were drafted by Major League teams.
This year, Arizona had scored more than 42 more runs than the next-closest team in the Pac-12 as the San Francisco series began. They are a .300-hitting team led by Brandon Dixon‘s .406 batting average. Coming into the weekend, Dixon also had 14 RBIs, which led the conference.
And it’s a balanced approach to the run production again this year. A dozen Wildcats have two or more RBIs on the season, and 11 have had more than one RBI in a single game.
If they sweep this weekend series with the Dons by winning tomorrow, it will be the 20th time they have done so in their last 23 weekend series.
Arizona jumped to a 2-0 lead in the opening game against San Francisco and then rallied after a three-run surge by the Dons in the fourth inning to post a 6-4 victory. Dixon went 4-for-4, the first time in his career he put together four hits in one game, and Trent Gilbert drove in three runs to help power the offense.
Gilbert, who chipped in three RBIs in last year’s final win over South Carolina for the title, has been on fire lately. Going into the San Fran series, the sophomore infielder from California was batting .524 for the six games leading into the series, with six triples and six RBIs.
A 5-2 win this afternoon will carry the Cats into tomorrow’s final game with the Dons, with the first pitch scheduled for noon at Hi Corbett.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)