The Arizona Wildcats open the 2011 baseball season with a three-game series against North Dakota State, coached by former UA pitcher Tod Brown (1992-94). This is the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
The Wildcats return eight regulars from a 34-24 team but open the year without the services of Steve Selsky, the team’s top hitter from last year. He broke a bone in his right hand when hit by a pitch during a preseason intrasquad game and is hoping to return by mid March.
The Cats are scheduled to throw a trio of right-handers in the opening series: Kurt Heyer, Kyle Simon and Tyler Hale. Heyer and Simon combined for 15 victories a year ago. Bryce Bandilla returns as the closer.
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The lineup is led by All-Pac-10 catcher Jett Bandy, a junior. Five other regulars started as freshmen last year: Joey Rickard (CF), Robert Refsnyder (OF), Seth Mejias-Brean (3B), Alex Mejia (SS) and Cole Frenzel (1B/DH).
Second baseman Bryce Ortega, an All-Pac-10 player as a sophomore, returns for his senior season after missing much of last year due to a back injury.
The Wildcats open the season ranked in the top 25 of all the major collegiate polls and were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10 in voting by conference coaches.
“Last year, we were very untested and very unaware of how to handle collegiate baseball because we were so young,” coach Andy Lopez said. “That is not an issue this year. Now, it will be a matter of how will we handle expectations, whereas a year ago it was how will they handle being a freshman. The challenge now will be how they handle expectations, and I think they’ll be just fine with that.”