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Andy Lopez: Arizona Wildcats’ success tied to move to Hi Corbett

Andy Lopez was one happy coach after clinching a share of the Pac-12 title on Sunday. Photo by Anthony Gimino, TucsonCitizen.com

Arizona Wildcats baseball coach Andy Lopez doesn’t dismiss this trend as coincidence:

UA’s first conference co-championship in 20 years; first home postseason appearance in 20 years; first year with Hi Corbett being the team’s permanent home.

“There is no way that we do what we did this year if we’re not at Hi Corbett,” Lopez said after an 8-7 walk-off victory over Arizona State on Sunday clinched a share of the Pac-12 title.

Earlier in the day, UA was announced as one of 16 host sites for the NCAA regional (the full 64-team field will be announced Monday at 9 a.m. on ESPNU).

Lopez said that the atmosphere at Hi Corbett might have been worth a few wins along the way.

Arizona drew 86,132 at Hi Corbett this season, an average of 2,461 for 35 home dates.

That is nearly a 137 percent increase over last season, when the Cats averaged 1,103 at Kindall/Sancet Stadium on campus. (Arizona’s lowest home attendance this season was 1,248 for UC Davis on March 6.)

“Cannot say thank you enough to the people who have come out this year,” Lopez said.

“It’s just the intangible of having some people out there yelling and screaming, and that atmosphere. And that’s been said by every Pac-12 coach that has played here. They said, ‘This atmosphere is pretty good.’ It is pretty neat.”

And here are some more numbers that make athletic director Greg Byrne happy:

He tweeted during Sunday’s game that baseball ticket revenue for the 2011 season was $69,000, but that ticket revenue just for the three-game series against Arizona State — which drew 14,405 — was $98,500.

“It’s been a fun year from the standpoint that we’ve been pretty good, obviously, but it’s been a lot of fun because you’re playing in front of a crowd and you feel that atmosphere and you feel the intensity,” Lopez said.

“I tell you, the nicest thing is, it’s hard to talk to my players during the course of the game sometimes. That’s a joy.”

Yes, it can get pretty loud at Hi Corbett at times, especially Saturday night when Arizona drew 5,667 fans — the largest home crowd for Arizona baseball in 22 years.

Lopez said it was so quiet at Sancet sometimes, that, if he was in a particularly foul mode, he would have to tone down his volume so the whole stadium didn’t hear. He learned that the hard way when his wife said she could hear his rants from the stands.

As for Hi Corbett, “I could be Bobby Knight in here and get away with it,” he joked.

And, now, the Wildcats will get to ride that home-crowd feeling through the NCAA regionals this weekend. Arizona has been on the road for its past eight NCAA tournament appearances, traveling to the state of Texas in each of the past two seasons.

“We like traveling and beating people at other places,” said junior outfielder Joey Rickard. “But home field is huge, especially with his great stadium and our great fans. It’s a big advantage for us.”

The team’s move off campus to Hi Corbett was not met with unanimous approval from fans and alumni, but the timing was perfect — the new venue, combined with a team built to peak this season, has led to a resurgence of Arizona baseball.

“I’m so thankful that the community has come out and supported us. I’m thankful we’ve played good baseball,” Lopez said.

“I’m really thankful we’re here.”


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