Arizona doesn’t need to win its Pac-12 Tournament opener on Wednesday morning against Oregon in order to secure a spot in the NCAA tourney, but it wouldn’t hurt.
The Wildcats remain firmly in the field according to the latest projection by D1Baseball, which has them headed to Louisville as a No. 3 regional seed and facing off against Vanderbilt in a rematch of their College World Series clash last June.
Arizona (35-21) is unofficially one of the last 11 teams in the tourney, as that’s the number of regional No. 3 seeds that aren’t projected to win automatic bids. Losing that first game could knock it down a few pegs, and depending on what else happens across the country this week it could end up closer to the tournament bubble.
Take the inaugural Pac-12 tourney title and the Wildcats eliminate the need to get in as an at-large selection.
“We talked to players on Saturday, after our last game and said, hey, we’re going to this tournament to win it,” coach Chip Hale said. “I just feel like we need to win a couple games in this tournament to make our ourselves feel good. It wouldn’t be good, whether we’re going to be in the (NCAA) tournament or not, to not play well this week.”
Arizona heads to Scottsdale having been swept at Oregon, the first time its been swept since April 2019. The Wildcats have dropped seven of 10.
“We don’t feel like we played awful in Eugene, but we need to win some games and feel good about ourselves,” Hale said. “We want to be in the NCAA Tournament, it’s very important for this program to get in the tournament, but we also want to be competitive. So if we’re not playing our good baseball, then we’ll see where we’re at at that point.”
With prospect of playing up to six games over a 5-day span, Arizona is going with a bullpen approach for the first contest. Sophomore right-hander Dawson Netz, who threw a scoreless inning of relief Thursday at Oregon in his first appearance in more than a month, will be start the game.
Netz had been Arizona’s Sunday starter the first six weeks of the season, compiling a 2-1 record with a 4.80 ERA in 28.1 innings. He earned the win in his first Pac-12 start, at Cal, then followed that up with five solid innings against eventual conference champ Stanford to complete a sweep.
“I feel fully confident in Dawson,” catcher Daniel Susac said. “He’s one of the most confident guys on the team for me, when I’m out there catching, so I’m really confident he’s gonna do a really good job of setting the example for us.”
Netz has experience opening a postseason game, having pitched the first two-plus innings in Arizona’s Super Regional-clinching win over Ole Miss last June. He’ll be making this start on the heels of having his sister, Devyn Netz, toss a shutout for Arizona softball in its regional-clinching victory at Missouri on Sunday.
“I texted him last night, I said congrats to your sister, and now it’s your turn,” Hale said.
If Arizona wins its first game it will play the winner of Stanford and ASU at approximately 4:45 p.m. PT Thursday. A loss Wednesday would send the Wildcats into the loser’s bracket and a 9 a.m. PT elimination game against the ASU/Stanford loser.
Win the first two games and Friday is an off day before playing in the divisional final Saturday.
“To win the first couple games is important, then you get the day off, so that’s that’s our main goal, is to win those first two, and then get Friday off,” Hale said. “But we’re prepared for any scenario. We’ve built enough pitching up now, in the later weeks, to be able to play a bunch of games in five days. We have enough relievers that can go back to back or pitch every other day. So we’ve kind of prepared ourselves for that.”