Lubbock, Texas, turned out to be the end of the road for the University of Arizona baseball team last season. The Wildcats were beaten by Sam Houston State in the NCAA Texas Regional, ending their quest to return to the College World Series after finishing runner-up for the national title in 2016.
The Cats’ two losses at the regional weren’t due to a lack of hits. It was more an inability to turn them into runs.
Arizona left 29 runners on base over the three-game weekend at the start of June, and 18 in just the final deciding contest. “We hit the ball well for three days,” said Arizona head coach Jay Johnson after the final loss.
But then Johnson honed in on the real problem: “We hit it at a lot of people.”
Well, the solution to that problem is simple. Hit ’em where they ain’t, as the old baseball axiom goes.
And the safest place to put it is over the fence.
The guy that can help the Cats do that appears to be an incoming senior at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in northwest Phoenix. After slamming nearly a dozen home runs during the regular prep season, Nolan Gorman took his power game to the national level.
On Monday night, the Arizona commit won the fifth annual High School Home Run Derby in Miami, Fla. The event is part of the festivities held prior to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The 6’1″, 210-pound infielder put 20 shots over the fence during the preliminaries and finals to bring the crown home to Arizona.
O’Connor High had a total 17 team homers in 29 games during the 2017 season. Gorman accounted for 11 of those.
His power at the plate began to materialize as a sophomore when he also hit 11 round trips, but had 22 more opportunities at the plate to do it. His .361 batting average and 34 RBIs this past season is actually a fall-off from his sophomore year when he hit .490 and posted 49 RBIs.
Last season’s UofA squad won 38 games with a pitching staff that was inconsistent and seldom dominant. So Johnson’s job in just his third off-season since taking over the program in June of 2015 is to shore up his mound work.
And the hitting hasn’t been too bad. The Cats finished with a .308 team batting average and posted an average of just over 10 hits a game. But their total 36 home runs averaged out to just one every other game. It would have been nice to have that kill shot that often makes the difference in the close games on a more frequent basis.
That’s why, if Gorman continues to get bigger and stronger as he works his way through his senior year at O’Connor, his arrival in Tucson will be most welcome.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)