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Arizona baseball notes: Cesar Salazar’s stardom, Jay Johnson to Alabama, and Oregon State’s Pac-12 domination

Some notes from the final week of the regular season for the Wildcats

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arizona vs Coastal Carolina Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

This time next week, the Arizona Wildcats will know their postseason fate and if they’ll have to travel from Tucson.

Awaiting them is a three-game home series with the California Golden Bears to close out the regular season, a series that Arizona will need to perform well in to potentially host some postseason games next week.

But first, here are some things going on around the program including a good story about the Cats’ primary catcher, some Greg Byrne/Alabama things happening, and some other minor stuff from around the conference.

Salazar’s Rising Star

Prior to going to Phoenix last week, the Pac-12 was following sophomore catcher Cesar Salazar around the facilities and did this really cool story on him.

“The story came out really cool,” said Salazar. “My family loved it. They did a really good job with that. It was just pretty cool to see that they like my story I guess. It was a fun time.”

When it was being shot, some of Cesar’s teammates were giving him a little bit of a hard time, namely Alfonso Rivas.

“It was weird to have a camera crew follow me every single step I took,” Salazar joked. “They were just making fun of me and were like ‘Oh superstar, superstar’ and all that stuff. But it was a fun time.”

Jay Johnson a candidate at Alabama?

Former Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne now has his first coaching vacancy to fill at Alabama, and it just so happens to be the baseball coach.

Byrne was essentially forced to fire Alabama coach Greg Goff after Goff threatened to revoke players’ scholarships, which is a violation of NCAA rules. Goff lasted just one year at Alabama.

It did not take long for Johnson’s name to be brought up by prominent national writer Teddy Cahill at Baseball America.

“Byrne has already made two high-impact baseball coaching hires in his career, as he hired John Cohen at Mississippi State in 2008 and Jay Johnson at Arizona in 2015,” Cahill writes. “Both previous hires could weigh heavily in his decision this time. Johnson led the Wildcats to the College World Series finals last year and has won 85 games in his first two seasons. He likely will be one of the candidates Byrne considers in his latest search.”

If it truly comes down to one of those two options, the far better option for Byrne is to get someone from Cohen’s coaching tree since Johnson has almost no recruiting ties in SEC territory. Of course Byrne can’t hire Cohen himself because he is now the athletic director at Mississippi State.

But as we all know, Byrne is the kind of guy that isn’t afraid to take a chance on an unknown and think outside the box with these kinds of things.

Oregon State makes Pac-12 History

Over the weekend, OSU wrapped up its conference schedule by finishing the year 27-3 against Pac-12 foes, which is a conference record for wins in a year.

“It’s the greatest year in the history of college baseball,” Johnson said flatly about this year’s OSU team, who is also 45-4 heading into their four-game series with Abilene Christian this weekend. “I remember when they won the back-to-back national championships (2006 and 2007) it was my first two years in Division-I baseball actually, and to me that is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen is their program rising and then winning back-to-back championships and Omaha three out of four years...until they went 45-4 this year.”

Oregon State has been the consensus No. 1 team in the country for the last nine weeks now, and will likely be the No. 1 National Seed when the tournament field is announced on Monday.

“It’s a really complete team,” continued Johnson about the Beavers. “Rotation, upside pitching, they’re all kind of different and you have to make adjustments. Great bullpen, athletic middle infielders, they can really defend, balance the right-hand, left-hand hitters; it’s a complete team. I think it’d be great if we got to play them again. It would mean things are going pretty good for us.”

One of the coolest moments of the college baseball season this year was on the day OSU clinched the Pac-12, it was also Pat Casey’s 1,000th career win. And it came against Oregon in Eugene.

“I don’t know Pat very well other than he’s been very respectful to me in every interaction along the way,” Johnson said of his relationship with Casey. “I remember I was the head coach at Point Loma and we were playing USD back in the day when NAIA would cross over to Division-I, and Oregon State had just played USD.”

“And I remember calling him — this might have been before cell phones — and I asked him for a scouting report and he spent a few minutes on the phone with me where I couldn’t do anything for him.”

“They’ve obviously done an unbelievable job, and with the balance in this league, to sustain it year-in, year-out, nobody’s really done it except them, so they’re obviously doing something right.”

The John Wooden of Softball

On the topic of legendary coaches, Jay Johnson had this to say about working side-by-side with Mike Candrea these last two years.

“Somebody put it well to me — I don’t remember who it was exactly — but they called him the John Wooden of Softball,” Johnson said. “Well anytime your name is put next to John Wooden’s, that means you’re probably pretty good, and a young coach like myself, if I’m smart, I’m going to listen.”

“He’s been a great sounding board,” continued Johnson on Candrea. “We really pull for each other. I sent him a text when they won the Pac-12 Championship. One of the first texts I got when we went to the College World Series was from him, and we have a very cool fraternity of coaches here at Arizona. (Rich) Rodriguez sent me a text after the sweep last weekend, and it’s really cool to be a part of that.”