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NCAA Baseball Tournament: Arizona earns at-large bid, will open vs. TCU in Fayetteville Regional

ASU, USC left out

arizona-wildcats-baseball-ncaa-tournament-tcu-horned-frogs-fayetteville-arkansas-santa-clara-2023 Arizona Athletics

Following a tough loss to Oregon in Saturday night’s Pac-12 Tournament final, Arizona coach Chip Hale saw a lot of hung heads in the postgame huddle out in left field at Scottsdale Stadium. He knew his team had just given its all, only to come up short, and the fear was that losing in the final might keep the Wildcats from making the NCAA tourney.

“I had a lot of guys that were really down after that game,” Hale said. “And I said, ‘get your heads up.’ I said we’re a deserving team, the committee will see this. They’ll see what we’ve done. They’ll see our last 10 games, they’ll see how well we played in this tournament against really good teams in our conference.”

The committee did, and it liked what it saw.

Arizona earned an at-large bid to the 2023 NCAA Baseball Tournament, placed in the Fayetteville Regional hosted by No. 3 national seed Arkansas. The Wildcats (33-24) will open plat Friday at 6 p.m. PT against TCU (37-22), while Arkansas (41-16) will face Santa Clara (35-18) in the other game.

Regionals are double elimination, with finals set for Sunday (or Monday if a second game is needed). The winner of the Fayetteville Regional will face the winner of the Terre Haute Regional (hosted by No. 14 Indiana State) in a best-of-3 Super Regional for a spot in the College World Series in Omaha.

The Wildcats were the fourth-to-last team to make the NCAA field, though the absolute last of the at-large selections to be announced, while rival ASU was the first team out. Arizona was one of five Pac-12 schools to get bids, joining regular-season champion Stanford (the No. 8 overall seed and only team from the conference to host), conference tourney champ Oregon, Oregon State and Washington.

USC was also left out of the field after finishing fourth in the Pac-12 in the regular season, while ASU was fifth. Both those teams had winning conference records, while the UA went 12-18 and was in eighth place, making it the first Pac-12 school with a losing league record to make the NCAA tourney since 2010.

Arizona has won seven of its last nine games, including a pair of wins over Stanford, and also beat Oregon State, ASU, USC and UC-Irvine, another deserving West Coast team that was left out.

“I just think we’ve finished the year playing our best baseball,” Hale said. “We’ve got one of the top offenses in the country. I think our pitching is pitching as good as it’s pitched all year. And those are the teams you want the tournament, you want the teams that are hot and can give you the best games.

“We’ve been playing this way for the last three weeks. We went up to Stanford and had two tough losses and then won that last game. They’ve sort of been playing with that mindset this whole time. We’re sort of backs against the wall. It’s an older team, a veteran team, led by some really good people, so I expect we’ll come out and play our best baseball.”

Arizona’s opening opponent, TCU, brings a 7-game win streak into the postseason. The Horned Frogs won the Big 12 tourney title on Sunday, beating No. 11 seed Oklahoma State 12-5, and have won 14 of 16 since sitting losing eight of 10.

“They’re another team that’s finishing the year hot, too,” hale said. They kind of went through a cold spell, but they’ve won a bunch of games in a row. They won their (conference) tournament. And we know their coaches very well. We know their personnel pretty well, they’ve got some kids from Arizona. They’re gonna be a tough team to play.”

This is Arizona’s 42nd NCAA appearance, sixth-most in Division I. It’s the program’s third consecutive bid, the first time that has happened since 2010-12.

The Wildcats reached the Coral Gables Regional final last season, falling to eventual champ Ole Miss, who like them this year was one of the last teams in. Many thought Ole Miss didn’t deserve a bid, and it proved everyone wrong, and now it’s Arizona’s chance to do the same.

“There’s no need for extra motivation,” Hale said. “And we will prove that we’re a good team. We’ll play our tails off. We’ll go out and play the best we can play and represent this conference very well.”