TUCSON, Ariz. — The Arizona baseball team entered the NCAA tournament with the fifth-ranked offense in the country. After two games, the rest of the Tucson Regional is probably wondering how it wasn’t No. 1.
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The Wildcats continued their offensive barrage Saturday night, staying unbeaten in tournament play by beating Louisville 16-4 at Hi Corbett Field in front of 4,007 fans, including Louisville fan Muhammad Ali.
Ali, who lives in Scottsdale, was born in Louisville and sat behind his hometown team’s dugout. What he witnessed was Arizona continuing to dominate at the plate, getting 23 hits — seven of them for extra bases — against four Louisville pitchers.
Righties. Lefties. The Wildcats didn’t discriminate. Instead, they dominated.
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said Arizona “is locked in” and has been “impressive” on offense.
“They are hot right now and feeling good,” he said.
With the win — their 40th of the season against 17 losses — the Wildcats moved into the winner’s bracket championship and will face the winner of Saturday afternoon’s Louisville-Missouri matchup at 8 p.m.
Fourth-seeded Missouri eliminated second-seeded New Mexico State 6-2 on Saturday.
For Arizona, the beat — and the hit parade — goes on. On Friday night, the Cats had 20 hits in a 15-3 win over Missouri. After Saturday night’s barrage, Arizona had 20-plus hits in back-to-back games for the first time since May 2007.
The 31 runs scored were also the most in back-to-back games since 2010, when UA scored 32 runs in two wins over Wichita State.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Alex Mejia, who went 5 for 5, said he knew his team was capable of putting up big numbers.
“Yeah, no doubt,’’ he said. “We’re capable of anything, to be honest.”
Arizona coach Andy Lopez quickly chimed in: “I wish they’d tell me that. I’d sleep a lot better.”
He will Saturday night.
“Needless to say it’s gone well for us in terms of offense,” Lopez said.
That led to a logical follow-up question: Is this the best-hitting team in the Andy Lopez era?
By the numbers, it’s close. Arizona ended Saturday night up two points on its season average and is now at .332 for the season.
“It’s the best team that applies what we teach, yes,” said Lopez. “You can teach it, but (the players) have to apply it. It’s the best group that I’ve had in a long time, including Florida and Pepperdine (his former coaching stints).”
In 2005 and 2008, UA finished with a .328 average, but that number could be surpassed at the current pace. Of course, this year’s switch to Hi Corbett’s spacious outfield might have something to do it and should be considered if making an apples-to-apples comparison with previous seasons spent at longtime home Frank Sancet Stadium.
Against Louisville, six UA batters had at least two hits, with Mejia leading the way with his five knocks and three RBIs.
Louisville jumped on Arizona starter Konner Wade for a run on three hits in the first inning. The Cardinals (40-21) held that lead until the third, when the Wildcats scored five runs, sent 10 batters to the plate and at one point had six consecutive hits, including a two-run single by Robert Refsnyder.
After scoring two runs in the fifth inning and another in the sixth, Arizona broke the game open in the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Johnny Field and Mejia. UA scored seven runs in the inning — including three on Brandon Dixon’s homer, the Wildcats’ first of the game — to extend the lead to 15-3.
The fireworks at the plate overshadowed Wade’s steady performance, as the UA starter scattered 10 hits through eight innings. He left to a standing ovation after striking out five and allowing just two earned runs. He is now 8-3 on the year. NOTES: Lopez said he didn’t know Ali was in the stands until he was told in the postgame interview. Lopez said he grew up watching Ali fight, adding that some of his family members were boxers in Mexico. “I wish I had known that,” Lopez said of Ali’s attendance. “He was someone I really liked to watch fight. He was someone I admired in terms of his size and speed. I don’t think people realize — and I say this all the time — is that you have to be able to take a punch. Even in baseball. That’s the thing about Muhammad Ali that impressed me: He could take a punch.”