Arizona Baseball's rise from ninth in the preseason poll to Pac-12 Champions

Preseason polls were low on Arizona, but the Wildcats and head coach Chip Hale came to play this year.
College World Series - Arizona v Coastal Carolina - Game Three
College World Series - Arizona v Coastal Carolina - Game Three / Peter Aiken/GettyImages
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The narratives surrounding Arizona Baseball in the post-Jay Johnson era have largely been ambivalent at best and downright negative at the worst. There was some merit to it, though.

The 2022-23 seasons

Arizona Baseball finished 33-26 last season, and the 12-18 record in conference play was good for eighth in the standings. The offseason saw six players including star outfielder Chase Davis head to MLB or the farm system. A few others like Aiden May (Oregon State) and Mac Bingham (LSU) opted to transfer for other opportunities.

Head coach Chip Hale had to live up to lofty expectations at his alma mater after taking over for Jay Johnson after Johnson high-tailed it to Baton Rouge for LSU's job. For his first two seasons, his teams weren't even in conference title contention — much less in the College World Series running — and his rope was getting short.

Yet on Saturday, May 18, No. 14 Arizona Baseball knocked off No. 6 Oregon State to clinch its second Pac-12 title in four seasons with two more regular-season games left, capping off a remarkable one-year turnaround from Hale, the coaching staff, and the players.

The offseason

The offseason following the heartbreaking showing in the 2023 NCAA Tournament where Arizona lost both its games brought more questions than answers. With Bingham and Davis gone, how would the outfield look? Will the pitching situation improve? Will the infield hold up with Tony Bullard and Nik McClaughry gone?

After finishing eighth in the conference standings in 2023, Arizona was widely believed to have become a team depleted by MLB and transfers, and the preseason Pac-12 poll reflected that by ranking Arizona ninth out of 11 teams in the conference.

A quiet storm was starting to brew in the Old Pueblo, though. Tucson native and Salpointe Catholic High School star Mason White turned some heads in his freshman year, while fellow freshman Brendan Summerhill was getting his feet wet. Two other key returners were second baseman Garen Caulfield and outfielder Emilio Corona.