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Arizona baseball: Jay Johnson solves Wildcats' recent RPI woes

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More road games has led to less uncertainty for the final weekend of the regular season

Ryan Haug catching during Arizona's game at San Diego State in February
Ryan Haug catching during Arizona's game at San Diego State in February
Jason Bartel

It's well known that the Arizona Wildcats have not played a single postseason game since winning the 2012 National Championship. A big part of that, especially in 2013, was due to the poor RPI that Arizona sported heading into Selection Monday.

With a new coaching staff and a fresh outlook on the game, the Wildcats are no longer in that position. As of Thursday afternoon, Arizona was 25th in the RPI according to Warren Nolan with a record of 35-20, 16-14 in the Pac-12. In 2013, the Wildcats finished 59th in the RPI with a record of 34-21, 15-15 Pac-12.

One game better record-wise. 34 spots better RPI-wise. Something's working.

Even though Arizona will finish the year playing five non-conference games against teams that have RPIs 168 or worse instead of closing with a Pac-12 foe like the rest of the conference, the Wildcats' postseason fate is pretty much locked in thanks to moving the final series against Hawaii on the road. The games were originally scheduled to be played in Tucson.

"RPI's been an issue here the last three years so that was a concerted deal," head coach Jay Johnson explained. "I did it pretty quick. I did it for that reason, and the other reason being a first year coach and not knowing what we have. The opportunity to go to Hawaii allowed us to play three more games, one was the Diamondbacks."

"I wanted to play as many games as we could, so when you go to Hawaii they allow you to add those games,' coach continued. "And the RPI factor if we have a chance at the end, it's more beneficial to play on the road."

The coaching staff has explained to the players why there was such a change in philosophy in scheduling right away.

"Jay's done a good job of telling us why we've gone on the road more than we have and why our schedule's set up like that," Nathan Bannister said. "I think the reason for that is to help us in the long run, and if we go on the road and play well, we know we've got more of a shot to get in, and that's what it's all about."

"That's been brought up several times actually," Cameron Ming added. "Even at the beginning of the season he was talking about it. Last year, I had no idea what RPI even was. I was just a freshman out here trying to survive. But this year I have a little more knowledge about how college baseball works and how important RPI is and the fact that road wins do boost your RPI more than home wins."

The Wildcats started the year with seven road games, unheard of in the Hi Corbett era of the program. And not just any road games. They won 2-of-3 at Rice (RPI: 28), lost at Lamar (RPI: 76) then three games in San Diego against Tulane (RPI: 29), Nebraska (43) and San Diego State (RPI: 182, true road game though).

Not only did it help with RPI, but it helped with the players' confidence before Pac-12 play started.

"It gave us a step in the right direction," Bannister said about going 4-3 on the road those first two weekends. "Good team chemistry going in, and really figuring out who we are as a staff, as a team, we know what we do well away from home. So it really helped us in the long run."

"That kind of helped us get comfortable early on," added Ming. "We had success early on as well, so it kind of established our confidence on the road. The players have a motto of making an away field our home field. Keeping the momentum on our side, keeping the fans out of it, and putting the pressure on them even though they're at home. I'd say there's more of a confidence that goes into it."

It makes you wonder why Andy Lopez didn't schedule this way.

"I spend a lot of time looking at (RPI)," Johnson said. "It's part of my job to put us in the best position we possibly can. I pay a lot of attention to it, and I think we've set ourselves up good."

They certainly are in a good spot. If things fall the right way before Sunday evening when the Regional hosts are announced, we could be looking at a team hosting postseason games rather than one being on the wrong side of the cut line.