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First-place Arizona baseball not looking ahead with last-place Utah in town

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Winners of six in a row and fresh off its first Pac-12 sweep of the season, Arizona is in prime position to keep the momentum going with struggling Utah coming to Hi Corbett Field.

But not surprisingly, Wildcats coach Jay Johnson is treating the last-place Utes (10-23, 5-13) like they’re one of the three squads Arizona is tied for first with.

“I just don’t take anything or anybody for granted,” Johnson said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know you have to play well to win, and we’ve won a lot of series because we’ve continued to play well. It’s not really about the opponent, it’s about us playing a brand of baseball, of complementary baseball, to be the team that we want to be. When we do that we’re going to be a very difficult game for any team in college baseball. I really, really believe that.”

Arizona (27-11, 12-6) has won five consecutive Pac-12 series, not only all but locking up an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2017 but also drastically improving its chances at hosting a regional, which last happened in 2012. Both Baseball America and D1Baseball have the Wildcats projected to host, with BA putting the Wildcats in line to host the Super Regional round if they got that far.

Losing even one game to Utah could severely harm those chances, since the Utes enter the weekend with an RPI of 207 compared to Arizona’s No. 8 ranking.

The Utes have only been swept in Pac-12 play once, two weeks ago at UCLA, having won once in their other five series. That includes wins at fellow first-place teams Stanford and Oregon State and a home victory last Sunday against ASU.

Oddly enough, Utah’s most effective starting pitcher has been its Sunday arm, sophomore David Watson, who is 2-3 with a 3.93 ERA in league games. Friday starter Justin Kelly is 0-4 with a 10.61 ERA and Saturday starter Kyle Robeniol is 0-3 with an 8.49 ERA.

That could spell some huge offensive numbers for Arizona, which is hitting .328 and averaging 7.2 runs in Pac-12 games. The Wildcats have seven of the top 28 hitters in league play, each hitting over .333, with Daniel Susac, Donta’ Williams and Ryan Holgate all in the top four in RBI in Pac-12 contests.

Utah hits only .248 as a team in league play, which means right-hander Chase Silseth (6-1, 5.53) and lefty Garrett Irvin (3-1, 4.18) could be in for more strong outings after they combined for 14.2 innings of work last weekend against USC. The Wildcats don’t have a starter announced for Sunday, but righty Austin Smith could be in line for another go after putting up 3.1 hitless innings last time out.

Arizona has avoided the proverbial “bad loss” this season, with only two of its defeats coming to teams outside the RPI top 100. Those came in consecutive outings, falling 9-1 at home to Cal before dropping an extra-inning game at Grand Canyon two days later.