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Home field helps Arizona cruise past Missouri in NCAA regional opener

Andy Lopez is a winner in his first postseason home game as Arizona's head coach. Photo by Anthony Gimino, TucsonCitizen.com

RELATED LINK: Arizona-Missouri game blog — Relive the game action

So, this is why Arizona Wildcats coach Andy Lopez wanted to play home games in the postseason.

The Wildcats bounced some key hits off their rock-hard infield and sprayed liners all over the outfield, where Missouri miscalculated by often playing too shallow in spacious Hi Corbett Field.

Meanwhile, pitching ace Kurt Heyer would have been dominant anywhere.

The end result was a 15-3 victory in front of 5,086 fans in the first round of an NCAA regional, with UA advancing to play Louisville at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. This is Arizona’s first postseason appearance at home since 1992.

“It helped,” Lopez said of playing at Hi Corbett. “It definitely helped.”

Heyer (12-2) had to find his way early, as Missouri scored twice in the top of the first inning and once more in the second. Blake Brown had a two-out double for the Tigers in that inning … and that was the last hit Heyer allowed.

“I made one bad, poor pitch,” Heyer said.

“After going through the lineup once, I made a pitching plan, just throwing curveball and jamming hitters. It worked out pretty well for the first part. I’m just happy our offense was able to back me up the entire game.”

Arizona’s breakthrough came in the fourth inning, when the Cats scored seven runs with the help of three hits that bounced their way into hits, including Bobby Brown’s leadoff chopper that went over the head of the third baseman. Two of the next three batters reached base on infield high-hoppers.

No matter how much the grounds crew saturates the field with water before games, the sun and the heat turns the field into a fast, hard surface.

“We got some Tucson hits tonight,” Lopez said. “We definitely got some bounce. At this time of the year, the infield gets hard no matter how much water you put on it. We took advantage of that.”

Later in the fourth, the Wildcats stopping hitting singles and started launching liners into the outfield. Lopez said opponents come in to Hi Corbett and have to strategize for the outfield dimensions — play shallow or play deep? Missouri played shallow, which helped Arizona hit four doubles and three triples.

Joey Rickard had three hits, including a two-run triple in the fourth.

“That was a good old-fashioned butt-kicking,” said Missouri coach Tim Jamieson. “I think, no question, this is an offensive ballpark.”

It didn’t bother Heyer, who pitched his seventh complete game in 16 starts, preserving the bullpen for a potential three games in the next three days.

“You get a little wiggle room,” Lopez said of being in the winners’ bracket. “It’s a heck of a lot better.”

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