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Baseball: No. 9 Arizona hosts struggling Wolverines

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Shortstop Jason Donald throws to first base during Arizona's game against USC Sunday at Sancet Stadium. The Wildcats take on Utah Valley State in a non-conference series this weekend at Sancet.
By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
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Remember Sacramento!

That will be the No. 9 Arizona baseball team's battle cry two weeks after getting swept in three non-conference games in Sacramento when they play Utah Valley State this weekend at Sancet Stadium hoping to avoid a similar fate.

The Wildcats (29-15, 12-3 Pacific 10 Conference) host a struggling Wolverine squad Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at noon after losing twice to UC Irvine and once at Sacramento State April 22-23 in Sacramento, Calif.

Just like in the Sacramento contests, the Wildcats will be heavily favored against Utah Valley State (14-33), a team that that earned a 5-16 record since beating Southern Utah in the first game of a doubleheader March 26 and struggles even worse on the road with a 4-21 road mark.

Head coach Andy Lopez said his team has learned from its last disaster non-league weekend, so it won't happen again.

"These guys have already walked down that path, and they know it's not a pleasant path," he said. "I think they're going to be really very much aware of playing as hard as they can."

Even with crucial Pac-10 series' at No. 18 ASU and the third-place team two games back, the Wildcats have business to take care of this weekend.

"We just need to stay focused on the game at hand and not get ahead of ourselves," junior left fielder Trevor Crowe said. "All I think we need to do is look back at our Sacramento State-Irvine weekend, and that should be a good reminder that if you're not fully concentrating on the series that you're about to play, there's going to be some poor results."

Complicating matters, with final exams starting Friday and going until May 13, Arizona needs to deal with succeeding in school as well as on the field this weekend.

"Final exams might have a little bit of an affect on us," Lopez said. "That's first and foremost. They're here to get their degrees first. It just looks different when guys are studying, when they're going to the library and trying to catch up on all their work and all the rest, but I don't think it's going to be a thing where we overlook Utah Valley State."

The Wolverines have a tough week themselves before arriving in Tucson, having lost to Brigham Young Monday before playing at Utah yesterday and ASU today.

First baseman Trent Perry (.335, 13 home runs, 53 RBIs) and designated hitter Dan Bulow (.324, 15 home runs, 37 RBIs) look to keep pace with Arizona's Pac-10 leading offense, averaging 8.4 runs per game.

They will take their cracks against junior ace John Meloan (7-1, 3.97 ERA) Friday and classmate Kevin Guyette (7-4, 3.81) Saturday.

Lopez said he's undecided on his Sunday starter and will pick between freshman David Coulon (2-2, 5.48), freshman Eric Berger (5-0, 3.86) and senior Sean Rierson (2-2, 6.46) based on how the weekend goes.

Coulon has started every series finale game since March 20's 17-15 loss at No. 1 Cal State Fullerton, Berger pitched six scoreless innings in Sunday's 18-4 win over No. 25 Southern California and Rierson has pitched only once since March 26's 16-8 loss to Washington.

The Wildcats take on a Wolverine staff with a 6.69 team ERA. After scoring only eight runs over a four-game stretch including the Sacramento weekend and Friday's shutout loss to USC and ace Ian Kennedy, Arizona rebounded with 25 runs Saturday and Sunday, including 13 in Sunday's third inning alone.

"Slumps are going to happen," said Crowe, who ranks second in the conference with a .415 batting average. "You wouldn't like them to last four games, but if they do we picked a pretty good time to have that happen. I'm pretty confident that our ball club will go out and will keep the same approach we used last weekend for the remainder of the season."

Junior catcher Nick Hundley attributed the slump to the entire lineup not hitting the ball well at the same time, as opposed to the rest of the lineup picking up a couple struggling players.

After the tough four-game stretch and Saturday's seven-run effort, the Wildcats exploded for 18 Sunday runs after a two-hour team meeting following Saturday's game.

"We just talked about the strengths of what they do, not try to do too much, making sure they understand where they have to approach their hitting plan," Lopez said. "Their hitting plan is basic for them, and sometimes they try to do too much."

Unlike their disaster weekend in Sacramento, the Wildcats need their bats to keep hitting as the Utah Valley State series helps determine postseason positioning.

Even being a non-conference series, Arizona needs these wins to host the regionals and super-regionals that could determine whether the Wildcats return to the College World Series.

"Right now this weekend's going to set us up for the postseason," Hundley said. "This series is going to be big for us to get the seeding in the postseason where we sit, so every game's important from now on. It's going to be a playoff-run atmosphere from now on."

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