Arizona Baseball: Wildcats Sweep Hawaii, Clinch Playoffs

5/24/2016. during the Wildcats 12-1 win over the Abilene Christian Wildcats. Hi-Corbett Field, Tucson, AZ. Photo credit to Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics
5/24/2016. during the Wildcats 12-1 win over the Abilene Christian Wildcats. Hi-Corbett Field, Tucson, AZ. Photo credit to Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics /

Following their weekend sweep of Hawaii, the Arizona Baseball team will continue their season into the College Baseball Playoffs. 

At Zona Zealots, we have been following the Arizona Baseball team, as they progress through their season. Early on, we highlighted that under newly hired head coach Jay Johnson, the Wildcats were going to have some challenges, but would ultimately be a resilient group, who would compete.

And compete they have. Coming into the 2016 season, the team had so many unknowns, and it was hard to gauge what kind of season they would have, in retrospect to the programs’ storied history.

Nationally speaking, Arizona has been a respected program in college baseball, dating back to the Frank Sancet and Jerry Kindall Days, appearing in some NCAA Tournaments, as well as the College World Series.

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The belief was Arizona would have a few difficulties and adjustments early on under new skipper Johnson, but the Wildcats certainly lived up to the schools’ rallying cry, Bear Down! Heck, most reputable publications had Arizona finishing in the bottom half of the conference.

Arizona seems to have exceeded expectations in year one under Johnson. At 38-20 (16-14) on the season, and bound for the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats have certainly surprised a few people, except perhaps themselves.

It has been all business for Arizona under Johnson, and that continued through the weekend, when the Wildcats traveled to Honolulu, to take on Hawaii.

Don’t let the enviable location fool you; the Wildcats were focused, and looking to continue their success in the series against an inferior, and inconsistent Warriors team.

In game one on Friday, the Wildcats used a strong offensive performance, in conjunction with six solid, scoreless innings pitched from Junior JC Cloney.

Arizona broke open the scoring in the second inning when Sophomore infielder JJ Matijevic launched a solo homer to make it 1-0 Cats. The Wildcats really brought out the bats, when they put up a five-run, seventh inning, to make it 11-0. Hawaii would respond with two runs in the bottom of the inning, but Arizona ultimately cruised to an 11-2 victory.

photos are by Emily Gauci / The Daily Wildcat.
Game two was a bit like game one as well. Arizona got great pitching from Senior Nathan Bannister, who pitched seven, great innings for the Wildcats, allowing only one run on five hits. The Cats’ bats came alive late in the game, plating five of their six runs in the last four innings. /

On Sunday, the Wildcats completed the sweep with a 5-3 win over Hawaii. Junior Kevin Ginkel got the start for Arizona, surrendering one run on three hits through three and two-thirds innings. Freshman Cody Deason came on in relief for Arizona later in the game and picked up the victory.

Senior Zach Gibbons and freshmen Alfonso Rivas III & Cesar Salazar led the way offensively for the Wildcats, combining for six of Arizona’s 11 hits. Matijevic also knocked in two RBIs on the day.

With the win, Arizona and Johnson finish the regular season with 38 wins, the Wildcats’s most since 2013, and as well as the most for a first-year head coach at Arizona.

Following the weekend series sweep, Arizona has clinched a spot in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The playoff bid marks Arizona’s 38th tournament appearance in school history, and they will travel to Louisiana as a two seed, with Louisiana-Lafayette being the one seed and host, Sam Houston State as the three seed, and Princeton as the four seed.

Here is how the team heard the news…
Tucson News Now

Arizona will open up play in the double-elimination regionals, by playing Sam Houston State on Friday at 11 a.m. MST.

The Official NCAA Tournament bracket was released this morning.

The seeding comes with a bit of controversy too, with none of the host teams being West of Texas, perhaps even more shocking, is the fact the SEC has seven of the 16 number one seeds. Following the selection, there has definitely been a bit of pushback for a lack of “regional diversity” in the committees’ selections.

It’s the first time since 1994 that a Regional competition will not be held west of Texas. So it has happened before, but 22 years ago.

Committee Chairperson Joel Erdmann discussed the selection process. Please note, Erdmann is the Athletic Director at South Alabama, and may be catching a little flack for his school making the tournament as one of the last teams in, despite them having a lower RPI than perhaps other deserving schools like Oregon State.

"Committee Chair Joel Erdmann discusses the selection process. #RoadToOmaha— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) May 30, 2016"

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For Arizona, I think they’re just glad to be in the tournament, despite not getting much credit all year. The team has certainly embodied that fighting Wildcat spirit and have definitely been playing for more than just respect. The Wildcats will look to continue that success this weekend. Bear Down, Arizona, and good luck!