A lot of times, teams that are forced to travel for Regional play in the NCAA Baseball Tournament are going to a strange, hostile place.
For the Arizona Wildcats, only the second adjective is true.
Back on March 7th, Arizona took a trip to Lubbock to play the Texas Tech Red Raiders in a single midweek game before traveling back to Tucson after the Frisco Classic.
Texas Tech won that game 13-1, but it was more than the Red Raider offense that has left a lasting impression on the Wildcats.
“Their fans were pretty rowdy,” senior LHP JC Cloney remembered of that night. “There were some things said that probably should never be said, but it’s Lubbock and there’s not much to do there. Their fans I’m sure will be packed up, so it’ll be a lot of fun.”
“The crowd was a little unruly,” Cloney continued. “It’ll be fun to go there again now that the stakes are a lot higher so I think it’ll be a lot more fun than it was last time.”
“It was intense, I can tell you that,” freshman third baseman Nick Quintana recounted. “But I think for us as a team that’s the best thing that could happen. Go back in there with some revenge that we can get back.”
“They have a great crowd, fan atmosphere there,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson added. “It’s very home field-ish, but when you’re in the NCAA Tournament and you’re going on the road, that’s going to be the case no matter where you go. We saw two of those last year at Louisiana and at Mississippi State.”
Texas Tech announced a crowd of 4,432 fans for that particular game, which happened to be the highest-ranked showdown in Rip Griffin Park history at the time.
“The atmosphere was awesome,” junior first baseman JJ Matijevic remembered. “It was cold that day but it’s not going to be cold this weekend. It was definitely an outstanding atmosphere. Their fans were definitely into it. But on the road, definitely (the biggest midweek crowd we’ve seen).”
“There was a pretty good amount of fans that they had there,” junior LHP Rio Gomez tacked on. “It was more crowded than I expected for a midweek, so they bring a good atmosphere and it’ll be exciting this weekend.”
Having that familiarity from both last year’s postseason and that single game in Lubbock this year, certainly the Wildcat players will feel a little more comfortable than if it was all totally new.
“We got our feet wet as you’d like to call it,” junior outfielder Jared Oliva said. “It’s going to be a real fun, competitive time.”
“I guess you get a better feel for the park,” said Gomez. “I think a lot of the experience that we can bring from this road crowd is last year’s Regional and last year’s Super Regional with the atmospheres we faced.”
“I think it’s invaluable,” Johnson added about last year’s travels helping this squad. “Successful experience can be a great teacher and can establish confidence, and I think in this particular case, we have a new team, but we have enough guys that played enough of a role in that that there’s a lot they can draw from, and I’m sure they will.”
“I remember in the first inning of the Regional last year, my heart was pounding,” Johnson admitted. “And in the College World Series it’s like that and it takes you a little bit to settle in. As players I’m sure they have some of that, but knowing we play every game with the greatest importance I think they’ll be prepared for it.”
“I think it’s going to help a lot,” Matijevic continued on about last year’s experiences. “That experience was special for me. I think we needed that for this year. We know what to expect now. We know we just have to be ourselves and not do too much and the game will take care of itself.”
So yes, Arizona may be walking into a hostile environment this weekend, but it’s nothing that they haven’t seen before. All of that could come around and pay off in a big way.