Cats, Ducks to Open Pac-10 Play
March 25, 2010
Oregon (17-6) at Arizona (18-4)
Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium
Series Schedule/Probable Starting Pitchers
Cats on the Radio: Arizona baseball radio broadcasts will begin this weekend for the Pacific-10 Conference opening series against Oregon. Brian Jeffries and David Kelly will describe the action live on 1290 A.M. in Tucson for all three games.
Some Series Themes: The Ducks (17-4) and Wildcats (18-4) will put their impressive non-conference records to the test with the commencement of Pac-10 conference action … The conference-opening series for both teams … Arizona coach Andy Lopez (987 wins) and Oregon coach George Horton (520 wins) have combined for 1,507 Division I victories in their distinguished careers … A glance at the stats shows an interesting showdown brewing between the Oregon pitching staff (2.31 team ERA, .244 opponent batting average) against the Wildcats’ offensive attack (.371 team average, 9.86 runs per game) … Both pitching staffs have shown marked improvement from a year ago, with the Ducks improving their ERA from 5.07 in 2009 to the current 2.31, and the Wildcats improving from 5.46 in 2009 to 3.91 … Neither team looks to win with the long ball, as Oregon has hit just eight home runs on the season compared to UA’s 13, although the Cats have one in five straight games … Look for some A+B=C baseball on the weekend as both teams like to get runners on first base and advance them to second anyway they can. The Ducks have 32 stolen bases and 27 sacrifice hits on the season, while the Wildcats have 55 stolen bases and 19 sacrifice hits … Both teams are solid defensively and can work out of jams via the double play ball. The Ducks have committed just 28 errors and turned 17 double plays, while the Cats have committed 30 errors and turned 28 double plays … The Ducks are 0-2 in games decided by one run or less, while Arizona is 5-1 in such games … Arizona ends a 25-game homestand to open the year this weekend.
Series History: The two teams first met at the College World Series in 1954, as UA won the opener in Omaha, Neb., 12-1. Arizona owns an 11-0-1 record all-time, including a series sweep to end the regular season in Eugene, Ore., in 2009 . Prior to last season, the last meeting coming back in 1966 as UA swept the Ducks in a four-game series in Tucson.
UA-New Mexico Series Recap: The Wildcats extended their winning streak to 13 games with a 10-4 victory on Tuesday and an 11-7 win on Wednesday against New Mexico … UA hit .377 in the two games while outscoring the Lobos 21-11 … The opener was a true test for the Cats as they had just two hits through six innings and trailed 4-2 going to the bottom of the seventh, But, two runs in the frame tied the game and UA tacked on six runs in the eighth, capped by a Joey Rickard grandslam to improve to 5-1 on the season in one-run games … UA used 10 pitchers in the two games, with Nick Cunningham earning the win in relief in Game 1 and Kyle Simon in relief in Game 2 … Rickard led the Wildcat offensive attack with seven RBI in the two games and four runs scored … Robert Refnsyder was the top hitter, going 5-for-8 as he took over the team lead in batting average (.4750 … Jacob Meskin turned in a career-best 4-for-4 day on Wednesday in his fifth start of the year behind the plate … UA turned four double plays in the series.
Cats in the Rankings: Arizona has cracked the rankings of a pair of national ranking lists, including No. 19 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 28 on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Top 30. The Wildcats are receiving votes in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll, just two places shy of No. 25.
Approaching 1,000 Wins: Arizona head coach Andy Lopez is quickly approaching one of the greatest coaching milestones: 1,000 Division I career victories. To date, Lopez has 987 career victories, and is one of four coaches within reach of the milestone this season. Already this year, Ohio State’s Bob Todd and LSU’s Paul Mainieri have reached 1,000 Division I coaching victories. Next in line could be Sam Houston State’s Mark Johnson (997 wins), South Carolina’s Ray Tanner (992) and Rutgers’ Fred Hill (989). Currently, 42 coaches have reached the milestone. Lopez’s career Division I coaching record is 987-606-7 (.620).
300 Wins: Arizona coach Andy Lopez already has reached one coaching milestone this season: 300 wins as the skipper of the Wildcats. UA’s 11-7 victory over New Mexico on March 24 marked win No. 300 in Lopez’s nine seasons in Tucson. At Arizona, Lopez holds a record of 300-188-1 (.615).
New BA Leader: Jett Bandy has received much of the acclaim as UA’s top hitter this season, and deservedly so given his current .471 batting average that has flirted with .500 through the year. But freshman Robert Refsnyder has quietly put together a stellar start to his collegiate career. Through 21 games played (20 starts), Refsnyder leads the club with a .475 batting average. The Laguna Hills, Calif., native has tallied 23 RBI on the season and scored 20 runs. He has five doubles and three triples to date, and is 5-for-6 in stolen bases. On March 17 against Wichita State, Refsnyder collected a career-high seven RBI, the highest total for a Wildcat in a single game since Brad Boyer’s seven in 2006. The performance helped earn Refsnyder recognition by collegebaseball360.com as weekly Primetime Performer Honor Roll honoree.
Behind the Streak: Arizona’s 13-game winning streak is its longest since the 2008 season and is tied for the second-longest in the Andy Lopez era at the school (16 games in 2007). Here’s a look at some of the highlights: The Wildcats have outscored opponents 149-46 … UA has hit .421 while limiting opponents to a .256 average … UA has more walks (58) than strikeouts (42 at the plate … UA has stolen 40 bases in 51 attempts, while opponents have just seven steals in 11 attempts … With 36 doubles, nine triples and seven homers, the Cats (52) have more than doubled their opponents totals in extra base hits (21) … Wildcats have been hit by 22 pitches, while opponents have been hit just eight times … The Wildcats have 10 sacrifice flyouts and seven sacrifice hits … UA has turned 19 double plays … UA’s pitching staff has 98 strikeouts and 44 walks, with a team ERA of 3.00.
Arizona in the NCAA Rankings: The NCAA released its first weekly national statistics summary this week, and Arizona found itself near the top in numerous offensive categories and a few pitching categories. Here’s a look where the Wildcats stood entering this week’s action:
Stat Actual NCAA Rank
Runs per game 9.8 11
Batting average .370 4
Total hits 274 4
Triples 14 2
Slugging percentage 0.520 29
Stolen bases 50 6
Sacrifice bunts 18 19
Hit by pitch 32 22
Sacrifice flies 13 19
ERA 3.85 34
Walks Allowed/9 inn. 2.98 34
Double plays per game 1.2 15
Pre-Pac-10 Pat on the Back: Arizona’s 18-4 (.818) start to the season marks the best start to a season for an Andy Lopez team entering Pac-10 play. The 2007 club entered conference action with a 22-6 (.786) record before going on to win 42 games for the year. A look back to the 2009 season, when the Wildcats were 11-7 entering league play, shows some noticeable statistical improvements, particularly in batting average, runs per game, walks, strikeouts and stolen bases:
Stat 2009 2010
Games 18 22
Avg. .320 .371
Runs/Game 8.6 9.9
Opp. Runs/Game 6.1 4.6
Doubles 52 52
Triples 12 14
Home Runs 14 13
SB-ATT 37-43 55-69
Offensive BB/SO 66/112 96/92
Pitching BB/SO 73/147 73/184
ERA 4.72 3.91
‘K’urt Heyer: Entering this week’s action, freshman Kurt Heyer is tied for second amongst all Pac-10 pitchers with 43 strikeouts. Of his 43 strikeouts, 19 have been looking, which checks in tops in the league. Heyer’s arm has accounted for 43 of UA’s 173 strikeouts as a team (24.9 percent) despite throwing just 18.2 percent of UA’s innings as a team.
Heyer Standards: Arizona freshman pitcher Kurt Heyer set the bar pretty high for himself in his collegiate debut. He was named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week and one of “Louisville Slugger’s” National Player’s of the week as announced by Collegiate Baseball for his effort against Utah Valley. Additionally, CollegeBaseballInsider.com named Heyer as its West Region Pitcher of the Week. In just six innings of work, the 6-foot-2 right hander struck out 13 batters, tying for second-most ever in a single game by a UA freshman pitcher. A native of Huntington Beach, Calif., Heyer struck out 13 of the 22 batters he faced, allowing just one run on three hits and only one walk. Heyer’s performance paced the Wildcat pitching staff to 17 strikeouts, the most for a UA staff in a single game since the Wichita Regional opening game against Oral Roberts in 2007. Heyer’s 13 strikeouts were the most for a UA pitcher in over two seasons, dating back to Preston Guilmet’s masterful 15-strikeout performance against Stanford in 2007.
No. 2 Guy: For the second weekend in a row, Bryce Bandilla will get the nod as the starter on Saturday. Bandilla, who began the year penciled in as the closer, has shown significant improvement in his consistency from his freshman to sophomore seasons as he has returned to the starting rotation. Bandilla has lowered his ERA from 6.20 a season ago to a respectable 3.24 mark in 2010. The key has undoubtedly been better control and confidence in secondary pitches, which has flipped his strikeout:walk ratio in a much more positive direction. In 49.1 innings a year ago, the left-hander had more walks (32) than strikeouts (30). This season he has 29 strikeouts – second on the club – and just 10 walks in 31.2 innings pitched.
Simon Says: Arizona sophomore right-hander Kyle Simon has steadied himself after an up-and-down start to the season. Simon won his first decision of the year on Feb 21 against Utah Valley in an eight-inning effort in which he allowed just one run and struck out seven. He then struggled in his next two starts and saw his ERA peak at 5.06 following a second-straight loss on March 6 against Cal State Fullerton. Since, Simon has been brilliant, picking up three straight wins to improve his record to 4-2 and lower his ERA to 3.13. Last week, Simon picked up a pair of victories (one in a mid-week start against Wichita State and another on Sunday against Sacramento State) , and this week earned a victory in relief on Wednesday against New Mexico. In his last 21.1 innings pitched, Simon has allowed just seven runs – four earned – and has 11 strikeouts against four walks.
Save What? Despite having the second-most wins of any Pac-10 team, Arizona has the fewest saves of any team – one. There are several plausible explanations for that. First, UA has lacked a go-to pitcher that has performed well in the role as a closer. Bryce Bandilla got the first crack, then Nick Cunningham and Tyler Hale. While all have been solid overall, no one has claimed the job permanently, and recently Cory Bernard has had a few ninth-inning appearances despite no save situations. A second reason for the lack of saves is the fact that Arizona has 13 wins with margins of victory greater than four runs, including five games with double-digit margins. Lastly, when Arizona has failed to close out games on the mound, it has had the luxury to do so at the plate. Playing all games at home to date, Arizona is 5-1 in games decided by one run or less, with three-walk off wins and two decided by UA’s last at-bat of the game in the eighth inning.
Steady Senior: On the youngest team in the Pac-10, Rafael Valenzuela offers a dose of veteran leadership. The senior first baseman is hitting a career-best .348 on the season and is one of the team’s top run-producers. Valenzuela, who has played every position in his career except catcher, pitcher and centerfield, has scored 30 runs and collected 22 RBI. He is one of the club’s top extra-base threats with eight doubles, three triples and a home run on the season, for an impressive .539 slugging percentage. He is also a swift 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts.
Seth Steps Up: One of UA’s top performers during the current 13-game winning streak is freshman third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean. The first-year Wildcat is hitting .442 over the past 13 games, which has improved his season batting average from .176 on March 6 all the way to its current .377. Mejias-Brean has also been UA’ssecond-best run-producer, collecting 17 RBI over the last 13 while scoring 15 runs. Included was his first career home run on March 14 against Northern Colorado, a solo shot to center field. The week prior, Mejias-Brean began to break out of his early-season slump as he delivered a clutch game-winning single in the 11th inning of opener of the Cal State Fullerton series on March 5. Two days later, Mejias-Brean drove in three runs in the 10-1 series clincher. For his performance, Mejias-Brean was named to the Primetime Performer Weekly Honor Roll by collegebaseball360.com.
Pac-10 POWs: A pair of freshmen – Joey Rickard and Kurt Heyer – have been named Pac-10 Player/Pitcher of the Week this season, along with sophomore Jett Bandy … Bandy was named Pac-10 Player of the Week on March 22 after hitting .600 over a five-game stretch in which the Wildcats improved their winning streak to 11 games … Rickard helped lead the Wildcats to a pair of sweeps last week over Saint Joseph’s (March 10) and Northern Colorado (March 12-24). The 6-foot-1 native of Las Vegas hit .579 for the week, scored six runs and collected nine RBI in five games. Additionally, Rickard reached base five times with a walk and was twice hit by a pitch, yielding a .692 on base percentage, to go with five stolen bases … Heyer, in just six innings of work, struck out 13 batters against Long Beach State on Feb. 25, tying for second-most ever in a single game by a UA freshman pitcher. A native of Huntington Beach, Calif., Heyer struck out 13 of the 22 batters he faced, allowing just one run on three hits and only one walk.
K’s and BB’s: Arizona’s hitters are walking more and striking out less, while the pitchers are walking fewer and striking out more. Indeed, Wildcat hitters have walked more times (96) than they have struck out (92) on the season. It amounts to 4.36 walks per game, significantly higher than last season’s 3.2 walks per game. At the same time, the pitchers have seen a rather dramatic turnaround from a year ago. Through 22 games, the staff has 184 strikeouts to just 73 walks for an average of 3.3 walks per game compared to 3.9 a year ago.
Clean Takeoff: Sophomore catcher/first baseman Jett Bandy has been one of UA’s top offensive performer in the team’s first 22 games. Bandy, who tied for the team lead with 21 doubles a year ago, is second on the club in average (.471), leads in slugging (.736) and leads in on-base percentage (.555). He also is tied for the lead in runs (30), hits (41), home runs (4) and is second in RBI (23). Just as impressive, in 87 official at-bats, Bandy has struck out only four times on the season. For his career, Bandy has struck out just 23 times in 251 at-bats, or once every 10 at-bats. Pretty good figures for a power bat in the lineup. Bandy was named Pac-10 Player of the Week for the first time in his career on March 22.
Carry Over: Jett Bandy’s hot start to 2010 can be traced back to the second half of the 2009 season when he was one of UA’s steadiest offensive weapons. Including the final 22 games he played as a freshman, Bandy is hitting a robust .412 (70-for-170) with nearly half of his hits going for extra bases (22 2B, 7 HR). In the 44-game span, Bandy has collected 39 RBI and scored 39 runs. As a freshman, Bandy earned freshman All-American recognition by Collegiate Baseball and set a UA record for freshmen by being hit by a pitch 14 times. He was plunked three times against Cal State Fullerton March 5-7, and is now 10th all-time at Arizona in career HBP after being hit six times this season.
Double the Fun: The Wildcats have hit at least one double in 20 of the 22 games this season. A year ago, UA hit a double in 52 of 55 games, including the first 30 of the season. Adding in the final two games of 2008, the Wildcats have doubled in 74 of their last 79 games (94 percent). Interestingly, after hitting 133 doubles a season ago (2.42 per game), UA had just 17 through the first 10 games of 2010 (1.7 per game). However, the Wildcats belted 13 doubles in the double-header against Saint Joseph’s on March 11, improving the season total to 30. The Cats added seven in three games against Northern Colorado and seven more against Wichita State, and their current total of 52 on the season averages out to 2.36 per game. Jett Bandy, who tied for the team lead with 21 a season ago, again leads the club with 11 to date.
Singles For Selsky: The power numbers are not there yet for sophomore Steve Selsky, but that could be a good thing as it has not resulted in a dip in his batting average. Selsky has refrained from over-swinging and has let base hits come to him one single at a time. The right fielder is tied for the team and Pac-10 in hits with 41 (Jett Bandy). But only eight of Selsky’s hits have gone for extra bases (four doubles and three triples, one home run). The result has been a .427 average that is third-best on the club and No. 10 in the league. He has 28 runs scored and has 21 RBI through 22 games, which matches his season total in RBI from his freshman season.
Ortega Bouncing Back: Junior Bryce Ortega did not start the season the way he had hoped offensively, but he steadily began to bounce back earlier this month. After entering the March 6 game hitting .175, Ortega finished the following week with a .254 batting average thanks to a nice five-game stretch in which he batted .421 (8-for-19). Adding in the next seven games,, Ortega has brought his average to a .272 for the season. On the year, Ortega has team-high 15 walks and has scored 26 runs. He now has scored 117 runs in his two-plus seasons at Arizona. For his career, Ortega is a .316 hitter with 19 doubles, five triples, five homers and 65 RBI. He is 39-for-44 in stolen base attempts (88.6 percent), which narrowly falls short of the best mark in UA history in the category. Currently, the best percentage is T.J. Steele’s 90.0-percent success rate from 2006-08. Lastly, Ortega has more career walks (70) than strikeouts (64). Ortega has yet to commit an error defensively at second base this season, after moving over from shortstop where he played his first two seasons.
Top 25 Wins: Taking two-of-three games from No. 18 Cal State Fullerton March 5-7 was significant to the Wildcats for a handful of reasons. But, perhaps the most significant reason was that they picked up a pair of wins over a Top 25 team. In 2009, Arizona was just 1-14 against Top 25 teams, including 1-9 against such teams in Tucson. Starting off 2-1 at home against ranked foes should give the Wildcats a confidence boost when they face some of the remaining ranked teams on the schedule later this season. The Wildcats also swept Wichita State in two games (March 16-17), which was ranked No. 25 in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
Double Play Combo: Shortstop Alex Mejia and second baseman Bryce Ortega, who was UA’s starting shortstop for his first two seasons, have developed some early-season chemistry as a dynamic defensive duo up the middle. The Wildcats have turned a league-best 28 double plays (26 on ground balls) on the season with Ortega and Mejia factoring into 23 and 19, respectively. Ortega leads the Pac-10 in total assists (84), followed closely by Mejia, who is second (72). That’s some good early season work for the middle of UA’s infield.
2,500-Win Club: Arizona’s 8-1 season-opening victory over Utah Valley was the 2,500th win as a program dating back to its first season in 1904. Only six other schools have reached the milestone, including Fordham (4,024 wins in 149 seasons), Texas (3,157 in 113 seasons), Southern California (2,652 in 115 seasons), Michigan (2,633 in 136 seasons), Stanford (2,596 in 116 seasons) and Arizona State (2,601 in 98 seasons). All-time, Arizona is 2,516-1,329-22.
Young Cats: With only two seniors and 17 freshmen, Arizona is the youngest team in the Pac-10 conference this season. In fact, the Wildcats have 23 underclassmen on their roster, which doesn’t include three junior college transfers to the program. A look around the rosters at other league schools finds that UCLA and California have 15 freshmen apiece. While the Conference is thin on seniors at most every school, only Oregon State has as few seniors as the Wildcats do.
Set Up Shop: The Wildcats are in the midst of a season-long homestand in which it will play 23 games in 31 days, a total of just eight off days over the next month as mid-week series commence. Counting UA’s opening weekend series against Utah Valley, the Cats play 26 games in 38 days to open the season.
.300 Club: Through seven games, the Wildcats are hitting .371 as a team, in line with recent UA clubs that have finished the season over .300. In fact, Arizona’s last seven teams have hit .300 or better for the season. The best figures were turned in by the 2003 and 2005 clubs, which each hit .328 respectively. Last year’s ’09 team was next in line with a .314 average. The 2004 College World Series team hit .305 as did the 2006 team. The Wildcat clubs of 2007 (.306) and 2008 (.301) also were above .300.
Unselfish Play: Arizona’s 5-4 victory in 13 innings over UNLV on March 3 included a record-tying performance by the Wildcats. UA executed five different sacrifice bunt plays to move runners up, tying the school single-game record previously establish at California on April 1, 2006. Interestingly, that game also lasted 13 innings. The last of this year’s five sacrifice hits proved to be the game winner as Alex Mejia successfully put a bunt down with a runner a second and an errant throw to first allowed the winning run to come in to score from second. On the season, UA has 13 sacrifice bunts in 12 games.
MLB Players: Arizona has a rich tradition in baseball and the excellence has continued well into the Andy Lopez era, evidenced by the number of former Wildcats who play in the major leagues. In 2009, 10 different Wildcats – eight coached by Lopez – played at the highest level of baseball. Here’s the list: Brian Anderson (CWS, BOS), Trevor Crowe (CLE), Shelley Duncan (NYY), Trevor Hoffman (MIL), Nick Hundley (SD), Mark Melancon (NYY), John Meloan (OAK), Brad Mills (TOR), Ryan Perry (DET) and Daniel Schlereth (AZ).
Home Sweet Home: The Arizona Wildcats are in the midst of a 26-game homestand to open the season at Jerry Kindall Field. That’s right, the Cats don’t hit the road until their Pac-10 opener at California on April 1 – and that’s no April Fools’ joke. It’s the longest stretch of home games in over 30 years for Arizona, which has stretches of 11 (2002) and 16 games (1998) to open seasons in recent years. The 1979 club opened its season with 24-straight games, but even that pales in comparison to the school’s longest streak. In 1967, the Wildcats hosted 39 home games before ever going on the road. As it relates to this year’s group, the Wildcats hope to continue success at home. Since the current Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium opened in 1967, the Wildcats have emerged victorious in 1,078 games overall, having won nearly 70 percent of the games played. UA has posted 39 home winning seasons since 1967 with an average of 25 wins per year at the field. In 1974 the Wildcats were nearly perfect in Tucson, posting a 37-1 home record, and they went 28-4 at home in 2007 to record the best home winning percentage (.875) since 1976.
New Coaches: Head Coach Andy Lopez has introduced two new coaches to the program. Shaun Cole, who served as the baseball operations director last season, as assumed an assistant coaching position this season and he will work with the pitching staff. Brett Scyphers, a former player under Lopez in the 2005-06 seasons before becoming a three-year team manager, has been named the volunteer assistant coach. The duo brings a youthful combination of playing experience and baseball knowledge that hits home with players. Both officially joined the program prior to the start of the fall practice season.
On Deck: Arizona will hit the road for the first in 2010 and will enjoy a break mid-week games as it settles into Pac-10 Conference play. The Wildcats will travel to Berkeley, Calif., to take on the Golden Bears in a three-game series that will start on Thursday, April 1.