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Champs revamped: Arizona Wildcats baseball preview

Arizona baseball

This was the 2012 team’s moment. Photo by Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

After the dogpile at the mound, after posing with the national championship trophy, after generally whooping it up, the Arizona baseball team gathered in the clubhouse at TD Ameritrade Park.

It was about an hour after the Wildcats had defeated South Carolina 4-1 to win the College World Series in Omaha. Coach Andy Lopez addressed the joyous group.

He recalled the conversation earlier this week …

“I said, ‘Hey, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve won two national championships. They’re great moments. They’re moments you’ll remember the rest of your life. Every time you hear of the 2012 season, it will ring, ‘Boy, we won it all that year.’

“But that’s what it is: A moment. It’s a moment. It’s not your identity; it’s not who you are as a human being. You’re a human being and you had a great moment. With that said, everybody has work to do to improve in everything that they do — being a good person, a good husband, a good brother, a good son, a better baseball player.”

Which brings us to 2013.

Arizona opens its season tonight at Hi Corbett Field, taking on Coppin State at 6 p.m. The athletic department will hold a pregame ceremony to honor the championship season, unveiling a banner on the outfield wall.

But Lopez isn’t much interested in talking about last season. That moment is gone. This team has to build toward another special moment after losing six regulars in the lineup and Friday night starter Kurt Heyer.

“None of those games that we won in Omaha are going to help us win games now,” said junior right-hander Konner Wade, who is the team’s new Friday night starter. “It’s a good memory, but we have to put it in the past.”

Wade (11-3, 3.96 ERA in 2012) will be backed by junior James Farris (7-3, 3.97) in the rotation. Junior Stephen Manthei, a bullpen stalwart last season, gets the first chance to nail down the role as the third starter.

Sophomore Mathew Troupe (6-1, 3.47, six saves) is throwing in the low 90s and returns as the closer.

“He has the makeup for it,” Lopez said.

“He’s a sharp guy. He’s about a 3.8 student, but he’s just goofy enough that when he messes up it doesn’t bother him. I like that. You need that in a closer.”

Kevin Newman

Kevin Newman has big shoes to fill at shortstop. Photo by V. Valdez Photography

Lopez likes to break down the season into 10-game increments and will be looking for someone to emerge as a reliable set-up man during that time. Other areas to work through early in the season are first base, left field and right field.

Joe Maggi and Brandon Dixon shared first base last season, but Dixon is now at third base and Maggi could be deployed to a corner outfield spot, depending on how the other dominoes fall. Lopez said he would prefer if junior college transfer Sam Parris or freshman Ryan Koziol lock down first base, but he could end up sticking with Maggi.

Sophomore Trent Gilbert returns at second base. The left side of the infield will be new with Dixon and freshman shortstop Kevin Newman. He replaces Alex Mejia, the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

“Kevin Newman brings solid defense,” Lopez said. “Even though he’s a freshman, he’s very clean defensively.”

Johnny Field, who moves from left field to center, should lead the lineup after a sophomore season in which he hit a Pac-12-best .370. Freshman Scott Kingery will land at an open outfield spot or at designated hitter. Lopez wants him to hit leadoff.

After that, Lopez said the play is to hit Maggi second, followed by Field, catcher Riley Moore (a freshman All-American in 2012), Dixon and Gilbert. Newman will bat somewhere in the bottom third, joined by a couple of mystery guests early in the season.

“There are some new guys that have to get used to the speed of the game,” Lopez said. “I can’t do anything about that. I wish I could.”

With so much turnover in the lineup — and playing in another loaded Pac-12 — the Wildcats were picked to finish fifth in the league behind Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon. Arizona is rated from 10th to 24th nationally among four major rankings.

And so it begins …

“I like getting the bugs out,” Lopez said of the season-opener.

“They’re tired of practicing, tired of intrasquads. They want to play. They need to play somebody and get all the bugs out.”

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