Oklahoma State takes on Arizona tonight at 6 P.M. in Omaha. The Pokes are coming off a 1-0 win behind a complete-game shutout from Thomas Hatch, and the ‘Cats are fresh off a 5-1 win over third-seeded Miami.
We talked with Jason Bartel of AZ Desert Swarm, the SBNation platform for Arizona University. Thanks again to Jason for taking the time to help us learn more about the upstart Wildcats.
1. How did Arizona's regular season go compared to expectations? Are you surprised that they made it to Omaha?
Oh I'm definitely surprised that they made it to Omaha. This is the first year under head coach Jay Johnson, who did have a 40+ win season at Nevada last year, but had never led a team to the postseason in his two years in Reno before coming to Tucson. The pitching staff looked extremely thin and weak heading into the year, and the lineup was full of guys who hadn't had success in previous seasons with the Wildcats. But this new staff has discovered something within these players that the old staff hadn't.
I don't want your fans to think the Cats were world-beaters this year either. They went 16-14 in the Pac-12. They finished tied for third behind Utah and Washington. They've just gotten hot at the right time. But they were picked to finish 9th in the conference before the season started.
2. Who are some players to watch for from Arizona?
The offense starts with Cody Ramer and Zach Gibbons at the top of the lineup. Both are seniors who hadn't performed particularly well in their first three years, but now they've both been drafted by the Angels in the top 20 rounds. Gibbons almost won the Pac-12 Batting Title.
Ryan Aguilar and Bobby Dalbec are the power threats in the middle of the lineup, if there is such a thing at TD Ameritrade. Dalbec can also pitch, so there's a real chance that he's either the starting pitcher on Monday, or comes on in relief after playing third base the entire game.
Cameron Ming has emerged as this team's closer in the postseason after starting the year as the Saturday starter. If Arizona's up late, I'd expect either him or Dalbec to close the game out. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell you who's going to be the starting pitcher because frankly I have no idea. There has been no pattern to who's been the starting pitcher all year, especially in the postseason. That's just a Coach Johnson thing.
3. What are the strengths of the Arizona team? Conversely, what are their weaknesses?
The strength of this team is manufacturing runs with bunts and forcing the defense to make plays. If there's a situation with runners on second and third and one of the better bunters at the plate, you may see Jay Johnson go for the two-run squeeze play that we've seen many times this year. I like to think that's Arizona's hallmark this year as lame as it sounds. Defense has also been a strength throughout the year.
The weakness is depth. There are not many pitchers this coaching staff would trust in a close game, and conversely there aren't a lot of guys who can come in and pinch hit either. But it's worked out lately.
4. How does a team beat Arizona?
A team beats Arizona by getting to the starting pitcher early and by limiting mistakes in the field. This team will make you pay if you commit errors in the field. I've seen it so many times this year, where the Wildcats shouldn't be beating a team, but they pull it out because that other team can't stay out of its own way. Play solid defense and make solid contact early against the Arizona starter and you will probably win that game.
5. Lastly, how do you see the game shaping up?
Like any other CWS game, I see it being a low-scoring, close affair. Playing in a park like Hi Corbett all year long, this team is well prepared to play in Omaha and the big park, and knows how to attack a game there (Arizona's now 6-0 in games in TD Ameritrade all-time). I think Arizona will pull this one out by a score of 4-2, and hopefully OSU will be playing UCSB once again after the Gauchos eliminate Miami earlier in the day.
Check back with CRFF today for full coverage and a game thread for tonight’s game. Go Pokes!