It's the most wonderful time of the college baseball season, as teams across the country gear up for the final weekend of the sport's regular season.
Things have not gone swimmingly for Cal away from the sunny shores of Berkeley, posting an abysmal 5-18 road record this season.
The Boys from Berkeley have lost eight of their last 11 games, getting outscored 61-41 in that stretch.
Taking two out of three, if not a complete sweep, will virtually be a must for Arizona if they're going to host a regional for the first time in a half-decade, given their relatively weak RPI (15) and 11-11 road record.
The Cats have looked strong down the stretch, though, posting an 8-2 record over the last 10 games, including three-game sweeps of Washington and the school to the north.
The four cogs in the team's offense against ASU were Alfonso Rivas, JJ Matijevic, Cesar Salazar, and Cal Stevenson, who combined for 16 hits and 11 RBI.
The other key to the team's steadfast play of late has been the pitching duo of JC Cloney and Cameron Ming, who have dazzled opponents all year, posting a combined 14-2 record and 2.47 ERA in 19 starts this year.
The relative surprise on the bump this year has been sophomore Cody Deason, who's gone 5-2 with a 2.93 ERA this season, including six strong innings of work in Saturday's 5-3 win over ASU, giving up an earned run while striking out four Sun Devils in a win.
Deason seems to have given head coach Jay Johnson a bonafide third starter heading into the NCAA Tournament, giving the Cats a sizable starting pitching advantage over whoever their opponent is.
The other pitching turnaround worth noting is the effort turned in by sophomore long reliever Michael Flynn.
Flynn, who threw a mere 15 2/3 innings in 14 appearances as a freshman, has looked sharp this season, going 4-0 in 19 appearances (including four starts), with a 3.35 ERA, the fourth lowest on the team behind Ming, Cloney and Deason.
Expect all three to toe the rubber this weekend, unless Johnson decides to give Sunday's start to southpaw Rio Gomez, who's gone 5-5 with a 4.64 ERA in 19 appearances this year.
The key to another deep tournament run will rest on the shoulders of the team's three-or-four man rotation.
In non-Arizona news, here are some of the players from Berkeley that you should brush up on before Friday's 7 p.m. first pitch.
Andrew Vaughn (Fr. infielder) - Vaughn has been one of the few bright spots for Coach David Esquer and company, leading the team in batting (.341), hits (70), homers (12), RBI (48), slugging (.556) and on-base percentage (.411). The 5-foot-11 freshman currently ranks 10th in the conference in batting average (.341) and fifth in RBI. Expect the Santa Rosa, Calif. native to be a thorn in the Cats' collective sides all weekend long.
Jeffrey Mitchell Jr. (Soph. outfielder) - Mitchell has been a tour de force in the outfield for the Bears all year long, posting the second-best batting average among everyday starters (.328) with a team-high 36 runs scored this season. The Pleasant Hill, Calif. native struggled a bit during the team's four-game series against Texas Tech last weekend, going 3-for-17 at the plate, but is a bonafide stud at the plate for the Golden Bears. Mitchell's shown throughout the year to have just as much pop and hitting ability as Vaughn, and could very well give Arizona's pitchers trouble this weekend.
Jared Horn (Fr. pitcher) - It's hard to shine a light on Cal's pitching staff, as they are quite objectively speaking one of the worst staffs in the conference. The Bears rank eighth in the conference in terms of team ERA, at 5.13, almost a full run behind Arizona, who conveniently enough ranks seventh in the Pac-12 with a 4.23 mark. Horn has been the team's ace this season, throwing a team-high 72 1/3 innings, while striking out 52 batters and walking 38. The 6-foot-3 freshman from Napa has shown flashes of brilliance this year, like when he threw a career-best 7 2/3 innings against Washington on April 28, though he did allow four earned runs in that appearance. Don't be surprised if Horn gets the ball on Friday night, as it'll be exactly one week since his last start, when he gave up two earned runs in five innings of work against TCU in a 5-4 loss to the Horned Frogs.
Tanner Dodson (Soph. outfielder) - Dodson's really stepped his game up during Pac-12 play for the Golden Bears, posting a .337 average with 33 hits in 27 conference games. Dodson's conference numbers dwarf his year-long stats, hitting more than 50 points higher than his year-long average of .285 against the Conference of Champions. Dodson enters Friday's game on a nine-game hitting streak, going 14-37 (.378) during that stretch.
The common theme you should take from this preview is that Cal has the chance to be scary good in a year or two, given how many talented underclassmen are on their roster. Dodson, in addition to Vaughn and Jeffrey will all be back next year, which could propel the Golden Bears to the top of the conference standings this time next year.
Arizona and Cal being their three-game series at 7 PM PT on Friday night. All three games will be shown on the Pac-12 Networks.
Pac-12 Baseball Standings
|Team||Conference record||Overall record|
|Team||Conference record||Overall record|
|Oregon State Beavers||27-3||46-4|
|California Golden Bears||13-14||23-28|
|Washington State Cougars||10-18||24-27|
|Arizona State Sun Devils||8-19||23-29|