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Arizona baseball: Wildcats host UCLA Bruins for Easter weekend

Arizona has a chance to make a statement this weekend

Zach Gibbons looks to have more success against UCLA this weekend
Zach Gibbons looks to have more success against UCLA this weekend
Jason Bartel

After opening Pac-12 play 1-2 at Washington last weekend, the Arizona Wildcats welcome one of the top teams in the country to Hi Corbett Field for a little Easter Weekend action.

The UCLA Bruins come to Tucson with a 3-0 conference record, having swept Washington State last weekend. Since it is Easter, the series is a day earlier than usual. Here's when each game starts, and the probable pitchers for each match up:

Thursday (6 PM): RHP Griffin Canning (3-1, 2.55 ERA) vs. LHP JC Cloney (2-1, 3.12 ERA)

Friday (6 PM): RHP Grant Dyer (0-1, 6.35 ERA) vs. RHP Nathan Bannister (3-1, 3.53 ERA)
Saturday (1 PM): RHP Kyle Molinar (2-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. RHP Bobby Dalbec (4-1, 1.21 ERA)

That's right, Bobby Dalbec has been moved into the starting rotation after throwing six innings in Arizona's lone win of the weekend last Sunday. Dalbec had been serving as the team's closer, but with the lack of a reliable third starter, Jay Johnson needed to make this move to give his team a better chance at winning a series.

When asked if Dalbec would be available to close, Johnson said "we'll see, the plan is to start him on Saturday right now."

This is not an unexpected move, as Arizona has been struggling to find a consistent third starter this year. Cameron Ming had the opportunity early in the year, and guys like Austin Schnabel and Michael Flynn have had a shot as well.

"We have an APB out for a third starter right now," pitching coach Dave Lawn told me last week.

Coming into this weekend, the Bruins have played the toughest schedule in the country according to Warren Nolan. Despite their 11-7 record, that puts them 14th in the RPI, just six spots in front of Arizona.

"They're kind of the kingpin of the league, there's no getting around it," Johnson said on Tuesday night. "They won the National Championship two years ago and I think they've won four or five Pac-12 Championships in the last six or seven years."

"We're excited about the weekend and excited about the competition."

"We're just ready to bring on UCLA and see what happens this weekend," Schnabel added.

"We need to make a statement of who we are and there's nobody better to do it against than UCLA," Ryan Aguilar tacked on.

UCLA doesn't exactly stand out in any one statistical category this year. They're in the middle of the conference in just about every aspect of the game.

Two Bruins are hitting above .300 this year, but both are well above. Eric Filia is hitting .352, with Kort Peterson checking in at .333. By comparison, Arizona as a team is hitting .306 so far, and has five regulars hitting .329 or better.

One guy who might turn it on for the Wildcats is Zach Gibbons. The senior right fielder is hitting .346 in his career against the Bruins, despite UCLA having won the last four games between these two schools.

As inconsistent as Arizona's pitching has been this year, they actually have a better team ERA than UCLA (4.35 to 4.58). Being at home will be good for the Wildcats too, especially Nathan Bannister. Bannister has thrown 19 1/3 shutout innings at Hi Corbett in 2016.

Thursday night will also be the debut of the new scoreboard at Hi Corbett.

"It's awesome," Johnson said of the ballpark's new accessory. "I didn't even know about it until about a month and a half ago, and then I heard about it and it's a pretty impressive looking deal out there."

"Somebody told me the football one was like the size of four basketball courts, and that looks like the size of one basketball court which is plenty big enough," Johnson continued. "One of the things I love about Arizona is the commitment our athletic department puts to baseball."

With UCLA's lack of statistical success this year, it'll be interesting to see if Arizona is able to keep up its winning ways at home. If the Wildcats are able to take the series, that'll be a huge boost heading into a relatively weak couple of weeks coming up on their conference schedule with Utah and Washington State up next.