The Arizona Wildcats are set to take part in the inaugural Tony Gwynn Classic, featuring eight teams and twelve games on the campuses of the University of San Diego and San Diego State over three days.
Arizona's first opponent is the Tulane Green Wave, who enter with a 3-1 record. They took two-of-three from 2015 tournament team Illinois, then won a single game against Alabama A&M on Wednesday. The Green Wave have been picked to finish second in the American Athletic Conference this year behind Houston. They return six position players and their entire pitching staff from last year's team; a team that made the school's first regional appearance in seven years.
The pitching matchup will pit Arizona junior LHP JC Cloney against junior RHP Corey Merrill. Cloney impressed last weekend, allowing just one run in seven innings against Rice. Merrill was also very good, allowing just three hits in six shutout innings. Last season, Merrill finished with a team-best 2.12 ERA and a stout .222 opponent's batting average. This seems like a game where the Wildcats will have to rely on Cloney to keep them in the game.
Tulane is hitting .256 as a team this season, which is 20 points better than Arizona. Stephen Alemais leads the way for the Green Wave, starting the season 7-of-15 at the plate, including a double and a triple. The junior infielder was their only hitter to hit above .290 last year (he batted .312), so this hot start isn't exactly a fluke. Merrill and Alemais were named to the American's preseason all-conference team.
Jeremy Montalbano is another Tulane hitter to keep an eye on. The redshirt junior catcher transferred from Texas last year, and in his first season in Louisiana, he's started 6-of-16. He's also thrown out the only would-be baserunner he's faced so far.
With six position players returning from last year's squad, plus the addition of Montalbano, this is a very experienced, dangerous team. Arizona will certainly have their work cut out for them in this one.
The Wildcats and Green Wave are scheduled to get underway at 2 PM MT on Friday. Arizona will play either Nebraska or San Diego on Saturday, depending on the outcomes of the two games.