By Chris Jackson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 20, 1998

Baseball team hits road to open Six-Pac play

Now the fun really begins.

After starting out 16-0, the seventh-ranked Arizona baseball team opens Pacific 10 Conference Southern Division play this weekend in Los Angeles against third-ranked Southern Cal (7-2).

"I'd rather start on the road," UA senior second baseman Erik Mattern said. "I like to get as many games on the road done early so then everyone has to come play us later in the year."

The series opens tonight at 7. Tomorrow's and Sunday's games begin at 1 p.m.

One of the biggest obstacles the Wildcats may face might not be on the field, but above it. Storms created by El Niño have wrought havoc on Six-Pac baseball in California so far this year.

But there is at least one person who is hoping for a few raindrops this weekend.

"We've got those guys doing a rain dance to get El Niño to come in here so we can play Arizona when they cool down later in the season," Trojan head coach Mike Gillespie said.

Gillespie was referring to his team's No. 2 and 3 starting pitchers - right-hander Mike Penney (2-1, 1.62 ERA) and left-hander Jason Saenz (1-1, 2.70) - both of whom are new at being full-time starters.

"There's no magic formula for us on that," Gillespie said in regards to coming up with a way to prepare the two pitchers to face Arizona's red-hot offense. "Their routines are set. You're hoping they just get better. Penney is more consistent but neither has much experience. They know they're facing murderer's row."

Arizona's offense has been explosive so far, scoring a team-record 223 runs through its first 16 games with Mattern (.474 average, four home runs, 30 RBI) leading the way.

Gillespie may have one guy who can cool off the Arizona bats in right-hander Seth Etherton (3-0, 1.23, 29 K's), who was one of the best in the country last year when he went 10-2 with a 2.96 ERA.

Etherton will face UA right-hander Darrell Hussman (2-0, 4.74, 29 K's) in tonight's series opener at 7. Penney will face co-national player of the week Rob Shabansky (5-0, 2.83) tomorrow and Saenz takes on southpaw James Johnson (2-0, 3.67) on Sunday.

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