Starting Over

March 31, 2008

(at Okla.St. 10, UA 2)
(at Okla.St. 3, UA 2)
(UCLA 4, at UA 3 – 10 inn.)
(UCLA 20, at UA 8)
(at UA 8, UCLA 4)

At least the baseball team is undefeated in April.

(You know who’s undefeated in March? Arizona’s swim teams. After two national championships a school in the desert now owns the water.)

The recent BatCats’ offensive woes followed them to Oklahoma State as the UA lost a pair of midweek games to the top-25 Cowboys. I went to the ballpark on Friday hoping a return home would be just what our guys needed to recapture their early-season form.

(You know who’s always in top form? The yelling lemonade guy. Life is just better when there’s a vendor standing at the bottom of the stairs shouting, “Arizonaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!”)

After three innings of leaving men on the base the Cats broke through when Colt Sedbrook decided the best way to avoid getting stranded is to drive yourself in. Colt is the new answer to the trivia question, “Who was the last UA player to hit an inside-the-park homerun?” which is convenient since he was the old answer.

You know you’re desperate for runs when you pinch-hit for your cleanup batter in the fifth inning. And, sure enough, we get a runner on third with no outs and can’t get him in.

Mike Weldon became third baseman #5 for the Cats this year. At this rate they’ll be giving an inning to every fan who picks the winner in the scoreboard dot race.

There are few things more exciting than a late-inning rally for the home team. After CJ Ziegler’s dramatic go-ahead homerun in the bottom of the 7th I thought our bullpen would take over to seal the deal. It's not second-guessing if you guess before it happens and I got nervous when Guilmet took the mound again in the 8th. I was thinking we were going to go with Stoffel to start the inning and I definitely would've gone to him as soon as the leadoff hitter singled.

Among our myriad of problems right now is Preston Guilmet isn't the 9-inning machine he was last year. He often acted as his own closer, recording five of the team’s six complete games. But on Friday night, for the second consecutive home start he gave up a lead in the 8th inning. Preston is still our clear-cut #1 and he’s as good as any starter in the league, but it’s OK if we give him some help at the end of games.

The Cats came up empty in their half of the 8th when the old pinch-hitter-for-the-pinch-hitter move didn’t work as Daniel Butler (or D-But, as hopefully no one calls him) whiffed. Arizona wouldn’t score again and UCLA escaped with a one-run ten-inning victory.

There’s not much to say about the 20-8 shellacking in game two, but when you let a guy go 7-for-7 you usually don’t fare very well.

There is this to say: Is there a more annoying Wildcat-themed radio commercial than that Basha’s one? “Gimme a U! Gimme an A! What’s that spell? U of A!” No, I believe it spells, “oouh.”

(You know who’s not annoyed right now? Weenies. It’s officially the Year of the Wuss in March Madness office pools. All you chickens who pick nothing but 1-seeds every year have finally been rewarded. I hope you use your prize money on a spine implant. Signed, Loser Yet Again.)

(By the way, we’ve sure had a lot of sports never-evers broken in recent years. Never had a Final Four with all 1-seeds. Never had an NFL team go 16-0. Never had an MLB team win a playoff series after losing the first three games. Shouldn’t that be a good sign for a college football program with a big huge never-ever hanging over it?)

Game three against the Bruins was a much-needed victory for the guys in red and blue. It wasn’t pretty, and it took three unearned runs and enough questionable umpiring to get the UCLA coach ejected, but hey, when you’re struggling the formula is simple:

W = W

A win is a win.

If you want to think positively you can say we were one play away from winning the UCLA series. You can point out that we scored 16 runs the last two games after scoring a mere seven in the previous five. You can argue that the pitching was good enough to win half of the six consecutive losses so if the bats can keep producing we can just as easily go on another long win streak.

Optimists also know our center fielder is back, and it looks like TJ Steele is pretty important. We are 14-4 and 2-1 in the Pac-10 with him in the lineup but 0-5 and 0-3 without him. You could say he's like Jerryd Bayless and Nic Wise rolled into one.

(I just can’t quit you, college basketball: There were three Pac-10 teams in this year’s Sweet 16. It's no coincidence that they were also the top three teams in the league in terms of scoring defense, and three of the top four in field goal percentage allowed. Sorry, ASU.

Meanwhile the Cats were 6th in field goal percentage defense this year, 7th last year, and 10th in '06. We were third in the league in defense in 2005 and, wouldn't you know it, that's the last time we fielded a team that did anything.

So man-to-man, zone, triangle-and-two, dot-and-four, whatever, we have to guard people next year and force them to miss shots or we will continue to be not-very-good.)

One baseball win doesn’t change the fact that this has been a very disappointing start to Pac-10 play for the Wildcats. The team picked to win the league sits in dead last after two weekends. There’s still a lot of season to be played but you already have to modify the team goals.

We’re not going to win the Pac-10 championship this year. As expected, ASU made short work of the same USC team that shut us out twice. The Devils might not lose six times the entire season, let alone in a row.

Without the league title we’re not going to be one of the protected top-8 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Hosting a regional is still possible but there’s a lot of ground to make up as second place in the Pac is a must.

Right now it’s time to go back to square one. This is a great week not to have any midweek games. Our guys can take a break from traveling and get in a full week of practice to bring back the basics.

And we’re still undefeated in April.

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