The NCAA mandates that college baseball teams take at least one day off each week. For Arizona, that happened to be Monday, the day after it clinched its first regional title since 2016, which meant the celebration was able to last a little longer.
But not too long, not with a tough matchup against Ole Miss in the Super Regionals to prepare for.
“I think it was really important for me that they got to enjoy being a regional champion,” UA coach Jay Johnson said. “If you don’t stop for a second you can somewhat lose track of why you are putting in all the work.”
By finishing up Sunday, instead of Monday, as Ole Miss (44-20) needed to in order to win the Oxford Regional, the Wildcats (43-15) gave themselves an extra day to rest, to bask in the glory of their success to this point and, most importantly, hit the reset button as they’ve been able to do all season long.
“One thing this team has done good all year is move forward,” Johnson said. “It’s been a theme. When we swept four games at the Frisco Classic, which was a great performance, we kind of maybe announced ourselves as we’re going to be a team that’s hard to deal with. That weekend, we really needed to move forward, and I felt like our guys did a good job of that. When we’d sweep a Pac-12 series, there’s always that next challenge on the horizon.”
Arizona made it out of the Tucson Regional without having to tax its bullpen. Junior left-hander Gil Luna and freshman righty Dawson Netz were the only relievers to appear multiple times, and Johnson said he’ll have all hands on deck for the entire weekend.
“The max games you’re going to play this weekend is three, so it’s the same as you do in the regular season,” he said. “Sunday was interesting, because once we got to 4-1 with nine outs to go, it’s like, we’re going for it. I’m not leaving anything in the tank. I’m not coaching, thinking these guys are gonna fail and worry about burning somebody for tomorrow. That was the time to go for it. I do like the fact that we finished on Sunday. We’re not playing until Friday. Everybody will be 100 percent ready to go.”
Johnson again will refrain from announcing a starting pitcher for any game until the last minute, but odds are the rotation will remain the same. That means sophomore righty Chase Silseth would pitch the opener despite lasting only 3-plus innings last Friday against Grand Canyon.
Silseth allowed four runs and nine hits, marking four consecutive starts that he’s allowed four runs.
“I thought he missed over the plate a little bit too much on Friday,” Johnson said. “I think, when you put a demand on him that we did to be the Friday starter and to meet or answer the call every week for 15 weeks in a league like the Pac-12 or the SEC there’s going to be some bumps in the road. I feel like we’ve managed his pitch count well, he’s done a great job of managing his conditioning well, but there probably was a point in time where he’s had to break through being a little bit fatigued, a little bit tired. I think we’ve got his preparation tweaked a little bit for this week, some adjustments that we’ve made that I feel really good about. Mindset-wise he’ll be in a good space, and be able to make a good contribution for us.”
Junior left-hander Garrett Irvin, who threw a complete game shutout against UC Santa Barbara last Saturday, would follow, with freshman righty Chandler Murphy the likely Game 3 starter if one is needed.
All three have been key to the major strides Arizona has made on the pitching side since 2019, when it had a team ERA of 6.23 and issued 5.35 walks per nine innings. All three arrived in 2020 or after, and as a result this year’s team ERA is 4.34 and the walks/9 are down to 3.89.
“Having these guys in the pipeline, I had great confidence,” Johnson said. “It just took them a little while to get here. Chandler committed after we played for the national championship, that was 2016, and I mean he didn’t pitch a game for us until 2020 because he was a (high school) freshman.”
Berry, Susac share national freshman honor
Designated hitter Jacob Berry and catcher Daniel Susac have been named National Co-Freshmen of the Year by Collegiate Baseball magazine.
The pair were previously named to they publication’s All-America team.
Susac, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, is hitting .338 with 12 home runs and 61 RBI. He is a semifinalist for the Buster Posey Award given to college baseball’s top catcher.
Berry, who is hitting .357 with 15 homers and 64 RBI, is a Golden Spikes Award Semifinalist and Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award Finalist.