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Arizona baseball: The turnaround in two years for the Wildcats has been remarkable

Don’t forget where this program was.

Arizona head coach Jay Johnson gives signals in Wildcats’ final game of 2017 vs. Sam Houston State
Jason Bartel

Three days shy of the two-year anniversary of his hiring, Jay Johnson saw the Arizona Wildcats’ 2017 season end in very disheartening fashion.

The team lost four of its last five games, and was dismantled by Sam Houston State early on in the final contest.

But let’s not lose perspective on what Johnson has done in two years in Tucson.

For three years after the 2012 National Championship, Arizona did not even make the postseason. They put up a combined record of 87-77 in those three years, and were just 36-54 in Pac-12 games.

That’s what he inherited as a relative unknown from Nevada, and he’s turned it into a consistent winner without even needing anytime to establish himself.

“There was no transition here,” Johnson said on Sunday. “I’m very proud to be a part of that.”

Arizona has gone 32-28 in conference play the last two years, qualified for Regional play as a 2-seed both years, and even finished as the national runner-up in 2016. He matched those 87 wins in just two years.

That’s not easy.

“It’s been a pretty special run to sum it all up,” senior Kyle Lewis said after the team’s final game. “Magic’s happening with this program, and it’s gonna continue to happen. The last two years, our runs through the postseason, it’s been pretty special.”

“This is tough here at the end because it feels like a car crash almost,” Johnson added about his feelings. “You’re going a million miles an hour, and then it’s over, and that’s tough.”

“But you can’t focus on the end,” coach continued. “We talk a lot about focusing on not what we’re going to accomplish, but how we’re going to accomplish it, and this team did it the right way. But we’re the only team in the Pac-12 to be in the tournament the last two years, and back-to-back winning records in the Pac-12 hasn’t happened very much at our university in the last 30 years.”

Not only was Johnson new to the scene, but the entire coaching staff was brand new to Tucson and Arizona. But that’s exactly what this program needed.

“I’ve got a ton of respect for ‘em. I love playing those guys,” Sam Houston State head coach Matt Deggs said about Arizona’s coaching staff. “They play the game the right way, they’re very, very passionate, they love baseball over there, and they do a great job. I’d play those guys every day if I could. Win, lose, or draw they make us better.”

As someone who has been around the program for all five of these years, I can guarantee you that Arizona is in a better place now and fans should be happy about what this coaching staff has done and is doing.

There was no recruiting bump from a National Championship. The cupboard was pretty bare when Johnson and crew showed up. They took that and went to the postseason twice and finished with identical 16-14 records in the conference.

Yeah, it’s easy to get down on this team. But they weren’t expected to make it out of Regionals this year. There’s a reason they were on the road. There’s a reason I had to drive ten hours instead of ten minutes to see this team play postseason baseball.

Did the season end in disappointing fashion? Sure. But 63 of the 64 teams that make the postseason lose their last game.

Big things are coming at Hi Corbett. Don’t lose sight of that. Please.