The world of big-time college sports is full of pressure and this past week had something for everybody.
The Arizona football team got the bad news that the rebuilding process will have to continue without a full compliment of scholarships due to retention deficits stemming from the coaching turmoil a few years ago. This puts pressure on me to come up with another Mackovic joke. I have a rough draft of one involving a man from Nantucket which may do the trick.
Four of our former football players survived the pressure of the draft and now face the stress of trying to make an NFL team. Who feels the most pressure, Chris Henry trying to live up to the hype as a second-round pick, Michael Johnson preparing to experience life in the Big Apple, or Nick Folk knowing that his new holder is Tony Romo?
The Arizona basketball team was already under pressure after a sub-standard four years and now there’s the added pressure of bringing in the highest-paid assistant coach in the conference (if not the entire country). The good news is if there’s anyone with enough experience to handle such pressure, it’s Kevin O’Neill. When you’ve been a head coach in the NBA, the SEC, the Big Ten, and the Sweet Sixteen, you’re bringing quite a bit to the table as a college assistant.
Our coaching staff will have a brand new dynamic this winter. Coach O’Neill could be in a game preparation meeting and say something like, “This team reminds of the Kentucky team I faced at Marquette in the second round of the ’94 NCAA tournament, and here’s how we beat them.” No offense to the other assistants, but what are they going to say? “This reminds me of the time I got out of detention and made it on time to the ’94 prom”?
(Again, I’m not trying to slam Pastner and Simon. They’re just younger than me and I barely have enough experience to butter toast.)
The Arizona baseball team has been under all sorts of pressure. The hitters have been feeling pressure to improve their incredibly shrinking batting averages. The pitchers have been under pressure to be just about perfect because the offense hasn’t been scoring any runs.
Preston Guilmet did his part with seven shutout innings on Friday to drop his ERA even lower than that team batting average. It would be one thing if we had a guy like Guilmet throwing every game but baseball is funny that way. So much of your success depends on guys who don’t play every day. If your starting pitcher does well, you’re probably going to win. If he does poorly, you’re probably going to lose. Then he takes the next six days off.
Preston is our best player by far and he has played in less than a third of our games. It’s just not like that in other sports. I mean, could you imagine if Willie Tuitama only played in a third of our football games? OK, bad example.
Brad Mills has done a fine job as the number two starter but that third slot continues to give us trouble. Here’s how our starting pitcher has done in the final game of each weekend series:
Brad Mills - 6 2/3 innings, 1 earned run
Mike Colla - 4 innings, 2 earned runs
Colla - 3 1/3 innings, 5 earned runs
David Coulon - 5 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs
Coulon – 3 2/3 innings, 6 earned runs
Coulon – 6 1/3 innings, 1 earned run
Coulon – 2 innings, 4 earned runs
Coulon – 3 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs
Ryan Perry – 5 innings, 3 earned runs
Perry – 2 1/3 innings, 4 earned runs
Perry – 4 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs
Colla – 5 2/3 innings, 1 earned run
Colla – 6 innings, 5 earned runs
Overall five of the team’s 11 losses have come in Game 3’s. One option would be taking all three guys who have auditioned for the Sunday spot and trying to get just two or three good innings out of each one before turning the game over to the bullpen. Or we could just switch to two-game series.
One of the pleasant surprises of the last couple weeks has been the sudden appearance of freshman Oliver “Quién Es Su” Padre. Oliver’s game log looks like this:
April 28: first at-bat
April 29: first RBI
May 4: first hit
May 5: first start
May 6: first walk-off game-winning hit
At this pace he’ll be in the Hall of Fame by Memorial Day.
So the Cats got back home, got some hits, and got three wins. We got Cal to beat UCLA once for us. Now we find ourselves in the rarest of sports situations: We need to root for Arizona State. If UCLA sweeps ASU this upcoming weekend we won’t be able to catch the Bruins. If UCLA wins two out of three, our margin for error just about disappears. In the quest for the Pac-10 championship, the UA and ASU have a common enemy right now and we need that enemy to lose even if they’re playing Those Guys.
The best-case scenario for us is ASU winning exactly two out of three games leaving the two teams tied for first. The absolute perfect scenario is ASU wins two out of three, we sweep USC and - lo and behold - we have a three-way tie for first with six games to play.
Unfortunately it looks like we are going to need a sweep in at least one of the next two weeks. Even if we go a combined 5-1 at home against USC and Washington, and then take two of three at ASU to close the season, we’ll still have seven conference losses.
UCLA currently stands at three Pac-10 losses so we need the aforementioned two defeats in Tempe plus two more against Oregon State (or one against the Beavers and one at Washington State) to give them an equal seven.
ASU has four losses so if UCLA is beating them once and we’re beating them twice that’s seven right there, and the three-way tie gives everyone a share of the crown. Hey, when you haven’t won the league in 15 years (and never since the two halves of the baseball conference combined), you take what you can get.
I don’t mean to put a bunch of pressure on our young players, but there’s a bunch of pressure on our young players. And that’s a good thing. You’ll never accomplish anything worthwhile without succeeding under pressure so our team may as well experience the tension right now. If they don’t make it to the top, so be it, and we bring a ton of guys back next year and try again. But if they do make it, they’re Pacific-10 conference champions, and that’s never a bad thing.
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