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Arizona baseball’s freshmen hitting stride with Pac-12 play in full swing

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Jacob Berry was not Arizona’s most highly regarded recruit of the 2020 high school class, but as the Wildcats near the halfway point of the 2021 season he may go down as one of the best freshmen in school history.

The switch-hitting third baseman leads the UA in batting (.400), slugging (.846), home runs (six) and RBI (26), along with several other categories, after a weekend in Los Angeles where he hit .500 with three homers and seven RBI.

“His swings are almost identical left-handed and right-handed,” Arizona coach Jay Johnson said. “He has what I would call a low maintenance swing.”

Berry, whom PerfectGame.org ranked as the No. 110 high school player in the country a year ago, has started 19 games and played in all 20. That already about as many as he played all of 2020 for Queen Creek High School and a summer league team due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It took him a little while to get going with the UA, going 0 for 6 in his first three games against Ball State before a 3 for 3 performance in the finale. That started a 10-game hitting streak, and since those first three contests he’s only gone hitless in two games.

“The first weekend was, for sure, nerve racking, not just for me but for every player,” Berry said. “But I think, as the more games I’ve played the more comfortable I’ve become in the batter’s box and the field. I’m just realizing it’s the same game I’ve been playing for a long time. I’ve just got to play the game, it’s not that hard to make things simple.”

Berry isn’t Arizona’s only freshman who has blossomed of late. Catcher Daniel Susac, who was 4 for 5 with two homers against Loyola Marymount on Monday, has lifted his average to .284 and has struck out only four times in his last 44 plate appearances, while converted outfielder Trevor Long threw three perfect innings of relief against LMU and could be seeing a bigger role in the bullpen.

Arizona (14-6, 1-2 Pac-12) has already faced the preseason conference favorites in UCLA but now hosts maybe the hottest team in the league in Oregon. The Ducks (11-4, 2-1) took two of three from ASU and come to Hi Corbett Field with a pitching staff that has a 3.00 ERA and a defense that has committed just three errors all season.

The UA’s ERA is 4.29 but it has also allowed 22 unearned runs, the result of 28 errors in 20 games.

As was the case two weeks ago, Hi Corbett has room for up to 1,000 fans for the 3-game series. Friday’s game starts at 7 p.m. PT, with Saturday’s first pitch at 3 p.m. PT and Sunday’s beginning at 12 p.m. PT. All three contests will be aired on the Pac-12 Network.