UA baseball finishes strong, awaits NCAA fate
MAY 26, 2013 7:28p ET
Those are the questions for the Arizona baseball team, the defending College World Series champion, as it sits squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble awaiting an announcement on its postseason fate.
The Wildcats did help their cause on Sunday afternoon against visiting Southern California, beating the Trojans 7-1 at Hi Corbett Field to finish off a three-game sweep. The Cats ended the regular season by winning five of six games.
What’s it like to not know whether Arizona has a spot in the tournament this time around?
“It’s weird because the uncertainty is there,” said UA junior Brandon Dixon, who went 2 for 4 with two runs scored Sunday. “You aren’t used to that, but we will see tomorrow and go from there.”
We’ll find out officially at 9 a.m. Monday morning when the tournament field is announced.
Just two weeks ago, there was significant doubt that the Wildcats would have a spot despite coming off a dominant run to the NCAA title last season, as they were sputtering down the stretch, opening May with a 1-6 record.
But since then, Arizona has been making a strong case for inclusion, taking two of three from No. 13 Arizona State last week in Tempe before the sweep of USC.
UA coach Andy Lopez said he’s “always optimistic” about his team's chances. Whether he's right to be so remains to be seen.
He said with a smile that he’s already planned a practice for Tuesday, but he’s been around long enough to understand the possibility of disappointment.
“We’ve had five of six pretty good moments the last couple of weeks, so we will see if it is good enough,” Lopez said.
The Cats seem to be good enough. They don't look quite as strong as they did at the end of last year, when they caught fire at the right time, but they've played well lately. On Sunday, as has been the case for the last two weeks, UA got good pitching, sound hitting and solid defense.
So what would Lopez tell the NCAA selection committee if he had a chance to state Arizona's case? He'd tell them that this is a young team that is just hitting its stride. He saw it coming as the team started to mature.
“And we come from a pretty decent baseball conference,” he said.
The Wildcats finished 15-15 in the Pac-12 and 34-21 overall. They went 19-6 in nonconference play.
“In all honesty, I’ve never watched the (NCAA) show,” he said. “I’m getting my car washed (Monday morning), and then someone will tell me if we are in or out.”
Sophomore lefty Tyler Crawford helped Arizona make its case, limiting USC to one run on seven hits in the series finale. He struck out only one but was methodical in his approach with a mix of pitches. He ended the year as UA’s winningest pitcher, finishing 7-2 overall.
“I heard someone say that,” Crawford said about the overall wins. “I asked if it was true. But I think you’re only as good as your offense is. Our guys have done a great job of run support on Sundays. I had to go in and do my job.”
He did so in what was likely a must-win game. For Crawford, it was just another day, and he made it seem like a walk in the park. He gave up a first-inning run and then cruised the rest of the way. Arizona helped by scoring three runs through three innings and four more runs in the fifth. USC (20-35) never threatened after that.
“Every game you go in, you just hope to execute your plan -- keep the ball down in the zone. Nothing changes,” he said of the pressure.
Crawford said “you never want to be in this situation as a team," referring to UA's postseason uncertainty, but the last two weeks have at least shown how good the Wildcats can be.
In truth, Lopez said it was “real disappointing” in the middle of the season when Arizona lost six straight games to the Oregon schools. He could have said the same thing about the stretch earlier this month in which UA went 1-6 against Washington and UCLA.
“The key thing is (we’ve) seen solid pitching,” Lopez said of the Wildcats' recent success. “When you look at our season, we couldn’t protect leads at Stanford, and that hurt us. There were other places, too. I thought that was our strength ... that we had some good arms.”
Whether the total package is good enough is now in the hands of the NCAA selection committee. And Arizona must wait for an answer.