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Arizona baseball finishes with a sweep, hopes for NCAA Tournament bid

Will Andy Lopez get to sit in front of an NCAA banner this year? 2012 Photo by Anthony Gimino, TucsonCitizen.com

Will Andy Lopez get to sit in front of an NCAA banner this year? 2012 Photo by Anthony Gimino, TucsonCitizen.com

Arizona Wildcats baseball coach Andy Lopez is going to be fixated in front of the TV, on edge, biting his nails, as he takes in the NCAA Tournament selection show Monday morning.

Not really.

“I go get my car washed at 9 o’clock,” he said.

It’s not that he isn’t optimistic about Arizona’s chances — “I’m always optimistic,” he said — it’s just that this is what he does every year.

“In all honesty, I’ve never looked at the show,” he said, adding that his preference is the car wash.

“My wife, she laughs. She says, ‘I know where you’re going.’ And I come in and then someone tells me if we’re in or we’re out. Whatever. Move on.”

There will be plenty of Arizona baseball fans anxious for the selection show, which starts on ESPNU at 9 a.m. Monday.

Arizona completed a three-game sweep of USC with a 7-1 victory at Hi Corbett on Sunday afternoon, finishing the season at 34-21 overall and 15-15 in the Pac-12.

That might be good enough to get into the field of 64. Then again, it might not. In fact, it probably isn’t, according to most projections.

Arizona has too few marquee victories and a too-soft non-conference schedule (a season-opening series at Auburn was canceled by the Tigers, leaving UA to fill in with Coppin State). The Cats squandered too many chances over the course of the season, didn’t get the expected top-level pitching from their veterans, and a young lineup matured perhaps a bit too late.

On the other hand, UA finished just a game out of fourth place in the league. That’s not shabby.

And the Wildcats won five of their last six, including two of three at Arizona State. With the way they’re playing right now, they not only look every bit worthy of being in the NCAA field, they look capable of making a deep run.

All the pieces are there. The pitching is postseason-tough. Arizona led the Pac-12 with a .306 batting average.

“If we do get in the playoffs and get lucky, I think we’re as hot as anyone in the country,” said third baseman Brandon Dixon.

Arizona, the defending national champion, would be one of those teams that lands in some regional as a No. 3 seed, with the host team pondering its bad fortune to draw such a dangerous squad playing arguably its best ball of the season.

The big difference for Arizona in the past two weekends is the starting pitching

Lopez needed only one pitch from his bullpen in three games against USC, that coming Friday night in the 10th inning from Mat Troupe, who induced a double-play fly out. Konner Wade went 9 1/3 innings in that outing, followed by complete games from James Farris and Tyler Crawford. They combined to walk just three USC batters.

Those are the kind of clean pitching performances that were missing early (as the Cats began 0-6 in the league against Oregon State and Oregon) and in key games later in the season.

“That was probably the biggest mystery this year — what was going on with some of those older pitchers during the middle part of the season,” Lopez said.

“Somewhere along the line, I did a poor job of getting those arms ready for that stretch of the season.”

Wade and Farris, two postseason heroes for Arizona last season, couldn’t reprise the same starting magic in 2013. They combined for a 4-10 record in 20 Pac-12 starts.

A couple more victories would look really good right now … but all the Cats can do is wait.

What kind of pitch would Lopez make to the selection committee?

“We started off with five, sometimes six freshmen in the lineup. They were a lot better at the end of the year,” he said. “And I think we come from a pretty decent baseball conference. We’re 15-15, won five out of the last six.”

Too little, too late?

The verdict will come Monday morning.


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