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‘Without question’ Arizona deserves to be in NCAA Tournament, Jay Johnson says

We’ll find out Monday if he’s right

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arizona vs Oklahoma State Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats took two of three from the Oregon Ducks in Eugene to complete the regular season, and now they have to play the waiting game to see if they have earned a spot in the postseason.

Arizona (34-22, 14-16 Pac-12) is firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, and likely on the outside looking in if you believe the experts on the matter.

But Arizona head coach Jay Johnson, who is totally unbiased on the matter, says his team should be in the postseason “without question.”

“Non-conference RPI of 11, strength of schedule within the top 40. We’ve won 15 non-conference games in a row. We won six of our 10 Pac-12 series. And just looking out there, there’s a lot of players deserving of playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Johnson told the Pac-12 Network after Saturday’s 11-4 win vs. Oregon.

“Given that opportunity, we’re not going to let anybody down. I believe we’re one of the best teams in the West region and we’ll display that if given the opportunity.”

But here are some figures that work against Arizona: The Wildcats’ RPI is 46, they are 5-7 against the top 50, they are below .500 in their conference, and their strength of schedule is actually 54th, per Warren Nolan, not within the top 40 as Johnson said.

Then again, the Wildcats would be entering the postseason at full strength after dealing with injuries to three key players during the regular season — catcher Cesar Salazar, outfielder Cal Stevenson, and left-hander Randy Labaut.

Salazar and Stevenson have been back in action for a while now, but Labaut pitched Saturday for the first time since suffering a leg injury on March 17.

The sophomore tossed two 1-2-3 innings. Might that help UA’s chances?

“He’s our best pitcher. As you saw, that’s 10 weeks without that,” Johnson said. “And to accomplish the things we accomplished without him, I’m really proud of our team.

“Salazar was out for a while, Stevenson was out for a while, but given the full complement, I guarantee we’ll be playing on Sunday night (in a regional final) wherever they send us with that opportunity.”

Johnson continued with his pitch, “I think the depth of our pitching staff gives us a chance to perform well. We can matchup with a lot of different people, and so hey, wherever it’s at — Gainesville, I don’t care — let’s get the Wildcats in there and do whatever we can. We’ll make NCAA baseball proud. We’ll make the state of Arizona proud and the Pac-12, which is still one of the best baseball conferences in the country. It should be represented with five teams.”

The selection show is Monday at 9 a.m. PT on ESPNU.