Arizona Wildcats baseball coach Andy Lopez made a mistake. Once.
He was the head coach at Florida at the time, in 1997, and he said he didn’t pitch his ace in the first game of a NCAA regional. The matchups didn’t work out, and the Gators didn’t get out of regional play.
“Yeah, I did it once,” Lopez said.
Lopez isn’t messing around, isn’t going to play games with the first game, as Arizona begins postseason play.
Yes, junior ace Kurt Heyer is starting tonight when the Wildcats, seeded first in the Tucson regional, take on fourth-seeded Missouri at 8 p.m. at Hi Corbett Field. Second-seeded New Mexico State takes on No. 3 Louisville starting at 4 p.m.
“Man, it’s a gamble,” Lopez said of saving the ace for a potentially tougher second-round game.
“If you come out (with a win), boy, you’re feeling pretty good the next morning. But, man, are you in the tank if it doesn’t happen.”
Besides, it’s not as a No. 4 seed is a walk-over opponent, Lopez said. The Tigers are coming off a Big 12 tournament championship.
Heyer, who was selected a second-team All-American on Thursday by Collegiate Baseball, is 11-2 with a 2.03 ERA. He has struck out 91 and walked 20 in 119 2/3 innings. Heyer has six complete games in 15 starts.
“He’s a machine on the mound,” said third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean. “He’s definitely that guy who clears everything out and just focuses. He’s a bulldog on the mound.”
Missouri is slated to start lefty Blake Holovach, who is 7-4 with a 4.60 ERA. He is actually the Tigers’ No. 2 starter, but Missouri is holding back Rob Zastryzny, who pitched twice in the Big 12 tournament last weekend.
“He’s going to compete for us,” catcher Ben Turner said in a press conference Thursday. “He’s not going to be intimidated. He’s seen and beat some the Big 12′s best pitchers, and he’s confident coming off last week.”