One couldn’t fault the Arizona Wildcats if they were down heading into this week.
They had just lost four consecutive Pac-12 games — three of them in walk-off fashion — and on a rainy weekend in Corvallis, the Cats were unable to come away with a win against arguably the nation’s best team.
“That’s a very good team; very complete when you look at Oregon State,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said after returning from that trip. “I think they’re better than anybody we played last year, and I have to credit our guys. The results weren’t what we wanted, but it’s a tough environment to play in, and we stuck with it. We just didn’t make a couple plays when we needed to.”
“It’s obviously not what we wanted and the team was disappointed with the outcome of that series, but we were just hungry,” Mitchell Morimoto said of the team’s mindset on the flight back home from Corvallis. “We were ready to get back out there and show everybody what we got.”
And as good teams do, Arizona bounced right back, putting up a perfect 4-0 week at home, including a three-game sweep of the USC Trojans to improve to 5-4 in Pac-12 play.
“We had a pretty in-depth meeting after the win on Wednesday,” Johnson said after Sunday’s 8-1 victory. “Just demanding as much as we could out of ourselves to improve the play, and they did that this weekend and I’m really proud of our team.”
“Every game in this league is hard, and they all count the same, and I thought our team did a good job of valuing this opportunity and taking advantage of it,” Johnson continued. “All the games count the same. They don’t keep records of sweeps or series won or series lost, they keep track of wins and losses, so I think our team does a great job preparing and there was no complacency coming into (Sunday), and that’s a sign of mentally tough people.”
“I think it just shows who we are,” Kyle Lewis added. “We lost a couple tough games up there, but it just shows how we can respond to adversity. We still have room for improvement, but it’s really good to see the team respond in that way.”
The most important thing this week was the return of Louis Boyd, who played shortstop and batted in the nine-hole in each of the four games despite having a torn UCL in his non-throwing elbow. He was 3-for-7 at the plate against USC, walked four times, and scored three runs.
“That’s huge,” Morimoto said about having the senior back in the lineup. “On defense making plays, taking away hits, and then back in the lineup he came out swinging like he never left. But I think the biggest thing is on defense. Making plays, controlling the infield, and having that senior leadership present in the infield really helps.”
“I’d be worried about it all the time but he doesn’t care,” added Morimoto when thinking about the potential of playing with a torn UCL. “He’s a trooper, he’s a grinder, and he’s taking one for the team. Great to get him back.”
“Playing with Louis up the middle is a blast,” Lewis said of having his double play partner back. “We keep it light-hearted out there the whole time. We’re laughing in between innings. We’re just talking about different stuff, but then we get locked in like that. Just playing with him, he keeps the whole defense flowing but keeps us more energized and excited.”
“It’s just more fun to be out there right now,” continued Lewis. “I remember Friday night we were flying around the field and it was just a great feeling, and it carries over to the next game and the next game. Hopefully we can keep the energy up on defense.”
Arizona had been playing freshman Cameron Cannon a lot as well as freshman Shane Martinez, so having a senior back in there has certainly changed things.
“Just age itself is a big thing,” Boyd explained of his leadership role on Wednesday. “Regardless of skill, younger guys look at older guys because they have their business under control, and I think it might just calm a couple of the freshmen down a little bit, and if they have any questions they can come and ask me.”
“Oh my gosh it’s just great having a mature middle infielder back in there,” Landon Faulkner explained. “K-Lew did a great job taking his place, and having Boyd back directing everything in the whole infield just makes a big difference.”
The Wildcats are certainly back on track, and looking to make a run up the Pac-12 standings. They are now 5-4 in league play, which makes them tied for fourth. With a response like they had after the Oregon State weekend, there’s no reason to believe that this isn’t one of the best teams in the conference.
Pac-12 Baseball Standings
|Oregon State Beavers
|California Golden Bears
|Washington State Cougars
|Arizona State Sun Devils