The Arizona Wildcats begin a four-game road trip in Houston on Wednesday evening, opening with a single game at Rice and then playing the University of Houston over the weekend.
Before that happens, though, here’s a quick look back at how Arizona fared in sweeping a four-game series at home last weekend against UMass-Lowell:
Arizona’s freshmen position players are legit
It was well-documented during spring training that this freshman class was head coach Jay Johnson’s biggest to date in Tucson and that the Wildcats would rely heavily on their young talent to try to get back to the NCAA tournament.
If the opening series against UMass-Lowell was any indication of things to come, Arizona is in good hands.
In Friday’s season opener, Austin Wells hit a three-run home run in his first collegiate at-bat and finished with six hits and seven RBIs overall during the four-game set. He was a triple away from the cycle on Friday.
Ryan Holgate was super impressive as well, homering in both games of Saturday’s doubleheader and again in Sunday’s series finale. The physically imposing Holgate currently leads the Wildcats in homers and RBIs (12) while hitting .429.
Branden Boissiere, Kobe Kato and Ryan Archibald added two RBIs each as well. Archibald hit a pinch hit two-run homer in game two of Saturday’s double header in his first college plate appearance.
Freshman arms don’t look half bad, either
The Wildcats started two freshmen on the mound against the River Hawks, and neither Bryce Collins or Quinn Flanagan looked overwhelmed in their first collegiate starts. Collins surrendered two earned runs over four innings on Saturday while Flanagan allowed only one earned run in the four innings he threw Sunday. Their early exits were by design, as Johnson said he was happy to limit all four of his starters’ innings early in the season. Arizona’s other two starters in the series, veterans Randy Labaut and Andrew Nardi, each only went five innings.
Tucson native George Arias Jr. came out of the bullpen to throw a scoreless inning on Sunday, while Randy Abshier came in and got four innings of work in his first appearance for Arizona, to pick up the save in Saturday’s first game.
Don’t throw at Nick Quintana
That much was clear after UMass-Lowell’s starter took exception to the Wildcats’ celebration of Holgate’s three-run homer in Saturday’s second game. The River Hawks pitcher threw his very next pitch about a foot above the head of Arizona’s star third baseman, which prompted Quintana to take a couple of steps from the batter’s box towards the mound, yelling out at the pitcher.
That caused the rest of the Wildcats to come pouring out of the dugout in defense of one of their captains. The incident didn’t boil over in to an actual fight, but there was a lot of chirping at one another from both teams, as each dugout was cleared and the River Hawks’ starter and head coach were both ejected from the game.
One of the most animated Wildcats to come out of the dugout was Quintana’s roommate, Matt Fraizer.
“I understand it’s baseball or whatever, but at the head, I don’t know,” Frazier said. “If you are going to do it, miss down. Not ever up. That’s risking someone’s whole career. I don’t think that was called for.”
Whether or not it’s ‘just baseball’ the Wildcats’ reaction to Quintana being thrown at definitely sent a message: don’t do it again.
Fraizer looks comfortable in leadoff spot
The aforementioned Fraizer had a stellar start to the season, going 8 for 17 at the plate with nine RBI in the four-game series. His success was all the more impressive after struggling in the famed Cape Cod league last summer and in Arizona’s fall scrimmages against BYU and Cal State Fullerton as well.
After Sunday’s finale, Fraizer and Johnson both talked about how hard he has worked on his swing in the offseason, with Johnson praising Fraizer’s “evolution as a hitter.”
If Fraizer can keep it up at the plate, it could be a huge bonus for the Wildcats at the top of their lineup.
Bullpen will be huge factor in Arizona’s success this season
Arizona’s bullpen got a lot of work against UMass-Lowell, as their starters’ collective short forays into their games forced the bullpen to work 18 innings against the River Hawks.
The bullpen looked solid in the first three games, with Cameron Haskell, Abshier and Vince Vannelle all impressing, but Johnson wasn’t as happy with his bullpen in Sunday’s finale.
After his relievers made a hash of things in the seventh inning by allowing three runs to score, in what was a blowout victory for the Wildcats, Johnson was adamant that his bullpen needs to be ready to pitch at anytime for this Arizona team to get back to where they want to be as a program.
“You could make the excuse of the big score, long weekend, waiting and sitting around,” Johnson said. “But those guys need to be more prepared to pitch for us to be the best team that we can be.”