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Arizona baseball: Wildcats feeling confident heading into final regular season series

Plenty of reasons for this team to be feeling good about itself

JJ Matijevic (24), Cal Stevenson (3), and Cesar Salazar (12) celebrate a run against Washington
Jason Bartel

As has been the case in recent deep postseason runs, the Arizona Wildcats seem to be finding themselves at the right time.

The Cats have won eight of their last nine weekend games since being swept by Stanford, and have kept themselves firmly in the Regional hosting talk heading into the final weekend of regular season play.

A lot of it has to do with the weekend starters of JC Cloney, Cameron Ming, and Cody Deason solidifying themselves in that role.

“I feel great for next weekend,” sophomore catcher Cesar Salazar said on Wednesday. “Now we have the three starters set. They’re all doing a great job. JC has been doing a great job all year long, we know that, but for Ming and Deason stepping it up it’s just great to have those three starters set already.”

“We know what we’re going to get from each guy,” Salazar continued. “We know they’re going to compete for us and give us the best chance to win that specific game.”

“It does make things a little bit easier,” right-handed reliever Michael Flynn added. “Everyone’s mind is a little more at ease because we’re not going in like ‘shoot, who’s going to go’. We kinda know what we’re doing now and can mentally prepare ourselves for individual roles that we need to be successful in order to get some wins.”

Arizona also finds itself in a new place this year getting to honor its seniors during the last game of the year rather than flying out to Hawaii and watching Monday’s selection show in the Denver airport.

“It’s nice to be able to sleep in our own bed on Sunday,” head coach Jay Johnson said. “That trip was so positive for our team that I think of it as like the greatest thing ever, but being at home, Senior Day, big deal for this particular team. It’s cool to be at home and honor them.”

“It’s cool because we get to see the selection here in Tucson and we get to end the season here in Tucson,” said Salazar. “We love playing here. Most of our families are able to come so it’s just a better atmosphere.”

“Being at home is nice, I will tell ya,” Flynn added. “Instead of coming home and hitting the road again, we’ll be right here and see how it goes.”

One thing that’s also interesting about Arizona’s schedule is that it doesn’t finish the year with a conference tournament like most teams. Despite the entire coaching staff being opposed to the idea of the Pac-12 adding a tournament of its own, the SEC Tournament was plastered on TVs all around Hi Corbett on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s really good baseball and we might face some of those teams in the playoffs, so it’s pretty cool to see what we’re getting into in the next two weeks,” Salazar said about watching those games. “But I feel like this is better because at the end of the day your goal is The College World Series, not the conference tournament winner, and I feel like you can get your pitching a little bit beat up if you play in a tournament before the NCAA Tournament, so I’m glad we don’t have a conference tournament actually.”

“It gives us a little bit of an advantage because our pitching is fresh,” continued Cesar. “We don’t have to use four pitchers in an entire weekend trying to win the conference tournament. It makes our pitchers more fresh and ready to go.”

What also helps Arizona out is that they’re at home this weekend, and all that’s left is baseball. No academic responsibilities anymore.

“These guys are great people, great human beings, they care about academics, and they want to do well,” Coach Johnson said. “That Washington series and then ASU on a Tuesday night, I saw it in that Tuesday game that there was a lot on their plate academically and then we were leaving the next day to go to Charleston and guys were trying to finish stuff up.”

“Not having that over the past two weeks has been great for them and I’m happy for them,” coach continued. “We’ve talked about that this is one of their best times of their life, and it’s definitely one of the best times of the year.”

Arizona and Cal being their three-game series on Friday night at 7 PM PT. All three games will be on Pac-12 Networks.