When last we saw Arizona, it was walking off the field in disbelief after being eliminated in two games at the College World Series. Each got hugged by a head coach that, just a few days later would skip town for another job.
Fast forward a little more than three months and the Wildcats are a few days into fall practice under the guidance of new coach Chip Hale, a former UA star who was hired in July to replace Jay Johnson, who is now at LSU.
Arizona played its first of three fall exhibitions on Sunday night at Kino Stadium in Tucson, losing 10-3 to Obregon of the Mexican Pacific League. The Yaquis, which had the best record in the regular season a year ago, fielded a squad of professionals in their late 20s and early 30s while the UA played mostly newcomers and younger players.
Only three regular position players from last year’s CWS team—catcher Daniel Susac, shortstop Nik McClaughry and outfielder Tyler Casagrande—started, with the remainder of the lineup (as well as subs) being either players in their first year of the program or who saw little or no action in 2021. Veterans like Mac Bingham, Tony Bullard, Blake Paugh and Tanner O’Tremba all sat with minor injuries.
“I know what they can all do, I’m not worried about any of that,” Hale said. “They’ve got some minor dings, and it just wasn’t worth them going out there pushing.”
Arizona used nine pitchers in the 7-inning game, with only righties George Arias Jr. and Trevor Long coming in with any game experience with the Wildcats. And not surprisingly, it was a rough night on the mound, with UA pitchers issuing nine walks (two with the bases loaded) and a hit batter while only recording two strikeouts.
“I think they learned a lot,” Hale said. “All the pitchers were young and hadn’t really been out there yet, so I think they got a taste of what it’s all about. The expectations were not real high, because we haven’t done any of this. It’s the third day we’ve been together. We haven’t done a lot of team defensive stuff.”
Arizona committed four errors, two by junior college transfer Noah Turley, who is the frontrunner to be the starting first baseman. Hale said Turley played a lot of DH at Yavapai College and should use Sunday’s game as an opportunity to grow.
“There’s some plays that happened tonight that he’s gonna have to learn from,” Hale said.
A bright spot among the newcomers was right-handed pitcher Josh Randall, the only one to throw a clean inning. The California native is ranked by Perfect Game as the No. 52 incoming freshman in the country.
“I think he did a great job of not making the situation bigger than it was,” Susac said. “I came out there, I said ‘let’s just have fun’ and he said ‘how bad could it be?’”
Susac, the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, was one of the first players to take to social media to reaffirm his commitment to Arizona after Johnson left. He said Sunday he understands why other players decided another school was better for them but that wasn’t for him.
“This is where I made my commitment to, this is where I’m going to be,” Susac said. “And the main part for me is my teammates, building the connection with them, and I feel like I’d be letting them down if I didn’t continue with myself here.”
Susac is listed on the fall roster at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, up 20 from where he said he was after playing for Team USA in July. The sophomore, who is draft eligible in 2022 and projected to be a first-round pick, said he’s eating more and better and has bulked up in the weight room with Hale right there next to him.
“He’s at everything with us,” Susac said. “6 a.m. weights he’ll be with us, not only with us he’ll be lifting with us. And I think it builds a really good culture of, if you’re gonna demand it out of your players, and you’re able to do it, then that builds a lot of respect for me, kind of showing what you preach.”
Arizona will play two more exhibitions this month, hosting Air Force on Oct. 24 and visiting UNLV on Oct. 30, with fall practice running until mid-November. The 2022 regular season is slated to begin some time in February.