The Arizona Wildcats’ first opponent in the 2016 postseason? Sam Houston State.
The Arizona Wildcats’ first opponent in the 2017 postseason? Sam Houston State.
“(Sam Houston State head coach) Matt Deggs texted me like ten seconds after it was released and was like ‘Here we go again’,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said on Monday. “I had enough of those guys in the two games we played in Louisiana last year.”
“What are the odds, really? Our whole team, and myself, have a lot of respect for their team,” Deggs stated. “Arizona speaks for itself. It looks like it is round two with those guys. I thought we matched up and played extremely well against them a year ago but came up short. They made a run to the championship game and probably should have won the whole thing. They will come in hungry.”
Arizona beat Sam Houston State twice in the 2016 Lafayette Regional, ending the Bearkats’ season in one fell swoop.
“They’re gonna come out hot and they’re gonna want to beat us obviously because we ended their season last year,” junior LHP Rio Gomez said. “So it’ll be a fun one on Friday.”
“Obviously the opener was cool, everyone was excited because it was the first time that some of us had played in a Regional,” junior outfielder Jared Oliva added. “I remember the second time it was an elimination game after we had already played Lafayette. They just kept coming back and it was one of those where you really have to focus because they keep fighting.”
Not only will the Wildcats see a familiar uniform in the opposite dugout in Lubbock on Friday evening, it’s going to be largely the same players as SHSU returns seven of their starters from the lineup Arizona faced last year. The Bearkats also feature the same pitchers the Wildcats took hacks against.
“They were feisty,” senior LHP JC Cloney said about Sam Houston State. “I don’t remember them having big power dudes but I didn’t get to face them. Being in the dugout I know they were feisty, scrappy guys that didn’t give away many at bats, so I’m sure we’ll expect the same out of them this year. They’ll probably want to give us a little revenge.”
“Not much has changed,” Gomez joked about the scouting report this year compared to last. “It’s mostly the same team from last year so it’s going to be a good one on Friday.”
But the Arizona coaching staff will prepare scouting reports the same way they do every weekend.
“I personally start from scratch,” Johnson explained. “There are some things mentality-wise, team-wise that you can take, and I think we’ll use those to our advantage but you really gotta go blank slate and look at what they did in the Southland Tournament and the last couple of games of the regular season since that’s where their players are at right now.”
However, Johnson did say that they’ll re-watch last year’s Regional games as part of the scouting process.
“We have a lot of video on ‘em so we’re going to know what they do,” junior first baseman JJ Matijevic said. “We’re going to know the pitchers and what he throws and how he throws it, so I think it’s going to help us a lot this year.”
“We’ve seen ‘em twice already, so the coaches have a good scouting report going back I guess,” Oliva said. “I remember it was a dogfight both games. Definitely nothing easy. They got good players and they had 40 wins this year so it’s going to be tough competition.”
While it will be largely the same guys, that also means it’s a group of players that’s a year older, has another 60 games of experience under their belts, and has the proverbial chip on their shoulder facing U of A again.
“Right now is a really good time to be playing our best baseball,” senior RHP Heath Donica said about SHSU’s current state. “We're going to use that and try to carry that momentum into the NCAA Tournament. We're very fortunate to get a chance to play in this thing again. We're going to make the most of it.”
Donica is who will likely pitch against the Wildcats on Friday, and his numbers this year are ridiculous. He has a 1.69 ERA in 101 innings, including the team’s only two complete games. Opponents are hitting just .197 against him in his senior campaign.
“If anybody had better numbers than that I’d be surprised,” coach Johnson said about his likely Friday night foe. “He just has high pitchability. He throws all his pitches for strikes. Older, been through the wars, competitive, and I think it’s a good combination for a really good college pitcher. I’m assuming that’s what we’ll get on Friday.”
So yes, it is good that Arizona has the familiarity. But it could also turn out to be a bad thing.
First pitch is scheduled for 4 PM PT (6 PM CT) on Friday, or 55 minutes after the Texas Tech/Delaware game ends. Both games will be shown on WatchESPN and the ESPN app.