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Arizona baseball: Zach Gibbons thriving under new coaching staff

The senior is in a position to have a big final year in Tucson

Jason Bartel

As the Arizona Wildcats adjusted to the new coaching staff during fall practice, one name kept coming up among all the players that really took a huge leap forward.

That is senior outfielder Zach Gibbons.

"I'm falling in love with the game again," Gibbons said of his new attitude towards baseball. "I got to enjoy it more. I'm not saying that I enjoyed it less with (Andy) Lopez out here, but I got to find a deeper love for baseball, and I feel like I enjoy it more being out here and wanting to share how I feel with some of the younger guys."

The environment at Hi Corbett has taken a complete 180 under the new coaching staff. Practices are individualized, music's blaring, and guys are talking constantly throughout the intrasquads.

"Being a senior, being here for three years, it's really cool to have Lopez here for the three years, and then Jay (Johnson) here for my last year so it's kind of a switch. I get to see the different sides of two new coaches."

"(Coach Johnson) wants what's best for all the players," Gibbons continued. "He wants us to do what's good for us, so I think having a coach like that it really does help everyone."

Gibbons hit .287 last year, .284 in Pac-12 games, but with a slugging percentage of just .378, he was left off the radar for the most part.

"Last year I kinda struggled trying to get going at the right time," he said of his junior campaign. "I just couldn't really find a specific mindset. I wasn't really being aggressive how I was my sophomore or freshman year. So this year, I'm definitely trying to be more aggressive to the pitches I can be aggressive to and just attack."

"I feel like for me personally, it being my draft year, I feel like there was definitely pressure there, and people saw it out on the field too."

Before the season though, Lopez hardly ever mentioned Gibbons in the conversation when talking about the outfield and who would be in the mix. It seemed strange at the time, and seems strange now after he started 50 of the 54 games. But it's still something that Zach took notice of.

"I kind of felt lost at a certain time, but I do feel like it was a blessing," Gibbons said of being left out of the preseason talk. "It kind of pushed me like 'Okay, I'm not playing like how (Scott) Kingery and (Kevin) Newman, and how their name was brought up like right away. I'm not starting like they are, so I gotta get going and prove myself once again."

To pick up some of the power numbers, the new coaching staff has made small tweaks to Gibbons' swing and stance. It's apparently working since he hit one all the way out of Hi Corbett at a recent intrasquad game.

"They've widened me out more," Gibbons explained. "I'm more in my legs instead of just throwing my hands at it. I have me being all of 5'8" I'm more in the ground so I have more leverage and I'm more in my legs."

"I'm not hitting home runs, but I'm driving the ball in the gap."

Only three Wildcats were drafted in 2015, and the seniors that are back for their fourth year certainly feel that extra little bit of motivation from that whole process.

"I was keeping up to date with (the draft) that whole day, and not hearing your name called kind of sucks, but I feel like it's a blessing in disguise," Gibbons recounted of that June day. "I got to grow up so much this year, and I found a new kind of gear for this year and for baseball."

"I feel like they've all found a new gear," Gibbons explained of his fellow seniors. "They're kind of stepping up this year in reality, and we haven't made postseason in three years, so we want to make it our last year."

With Tyler Crawford being the only member of this team that's ever experienced postseason college baseball, the goal of this senior class is to change that.

"Specifically, I don't really care how I do this year," said Gibbons. "Obviously it would be good to do good, but I just want to make sure the team makes a postseason."

The coaching staff is also relying on the old guys to take on more leadership, and that's certainly something that Zach enjoys shouldering.

"I love it," he said of his newfound leadership role. "It's pretty cool to be in that role in my last year."

"And like I said, I want to show 'em how it's supposed to be done here."