Eyeing The Storm

June 2, 2008

(baseball regional)
(UA 13, Eastern Michigan 7)
(UA 4, Michigan 3)
(UA 5, Kentucky 3)

Arizona beats Kentucky! Simon says (regional) championship!

The UA baseball program got a mini monkey – a Pygmy Marmoset, if you will – off its back by sealing the deal in a regional final for the first time in four years. After identical disappointment at Fullerton in 2005 and Wichita last year, the Cats finally got the elusive third win in the opening weekend to advance to the next round.

But, of course, the team waiting is…. Actually, let’s hold off on the bad news. We just won a regional!

Game 1 Friday with the EMUs was good, then bad, then good again. A 5-0 lead in the 3rd inning turned into a 6-5 deficit in the 6th inning, but it resulted in a 13-7 Wildcat victory. However, you really have to be concerned about…. No, not yet. We’re in college baseball’s Sweet 16!

The next two games in Ann Arbor followed the same pattern: score early, then put the bats away and sweat and squirm as you try and hold on at the end. Against the host Wolverines we got three runs in the 1st, a fourth run in the 3rd, and that was it. In the regional clincher against Kentucky we led 4-0 in the 4th but only scored one more run the rest of the way. In beats not scoring at all like last year, but slightly more extended scoring would make this easier on all of us.

The UA pitching came through in a big way to make the thin run totals stand up. In those final two games we saw the other team chip away at the lead with home runs – two in each game – but all four long balls came with the bases empty. When you don’t walk a lot of people (only six combined on Saturday and Sunday) you minimize your chances of giving up a back-breaking big inning.

Now Arizona moves on to…. Nah, not just yet. Ulysses S. Grant is trying to save college baseball! For the first time in at least six years, the Confederate States of Baseball got fewer than 11 regional sites. The South was only awarded nine regionals this year! The North got one, two went to the Territories of Nebraska and Oklahoma, and the West – the part of the country that has produced three of the last four national champions, 10 of the last 25, and 31 of 61 overall – got a whole four. Let us thank our Southern benefactors!

OK. I can’t run from it any more. Yes, our team gets to play more games. Yes, the Cats went undefeated in their regional. But what do they get as a reward? A trip to play #1 Miami in their own ballpark. The Hurricanes are the #1 overall seed in the tournament, #1 in the RPI, and #1 in every poll. They have the most wins in Division I baseball (50) and the fewest losses (8). They are 33-5 at home. Can you see why I wasn’t in a hurry to talk about this part?

The Cats have jumped, as they say, out of the frying pan and into the fire, but only if you replace “fire” with “nuclear volcano.”

So how do you win on the other side of the country against the team that everyone says is the best in the country? For one, you’ve got to score a lot of runs. Maybe we can get Dick Tomey to give some pointers on how to hit the Hurricanes.

The other key element – and the most important aspect for this Arizona team – is you have to get top-notch pitching. You need your best arms to throw their best games. And that’s where the other bad news comes in.

What do you do with Preston Guilmet?

Preston’s Friday night start was more of the same stuff we’ve seen for five weeks now. He’s not out-of-control wild (no walks in 4 1/3 innings) but in the 5th inning he couldn’t get anybody out. The first six guys reached base (five hits and a hit-batsman) and all six of them came around to score. And this wasn’t against either of the big conference schools in the regional; it was Eastern Michigan and its losing record.

So now what? You never want to give up on a player, especially one who has done so many good things for you. But you can't just give away game 1 of a best-of-3 series. If your top starter is struggling you have to be 100% sure he’s capable of competing at the highest level or you have to go with plan B. Does that mean only asking him to go three or four innings instead of seven or eight? Does it mean pushing him back in the rotation? Do you rest him the entire weekend and start Coulon, Berger and Colla instead? I’m sure everyone associated with the program wishes they had the answer.

The big difference between the regionals and the super regional round is you’re only playing a maximum of three games. There’s no losers bracket with the possibility of having to win four games in three days. Everybody’s pitchers are rested and you can go out with your biggest guns blazing. And we do still have some really big guns.

The bullpen trio of Perry, Schlereth and Stoffel did their normal dominating in Ann Arbor. It’s a shame we’ve waited this long to try and find these guys a nickname. One of the local papers suggested “The Zeros.” The Michigan play-by-play announcer dubbed them “The Triumvirate of Doom.” What about Heat Cubed? Fire, Fire, and More Fire? I think I’m going to go with…

Famine, Pestilence, and Death.

Ryan makes you think he’s never going away. Daniel just devastates you. And when Jason comes in, your heart stops.

Bring on the nuclear volcano.

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