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Freshman Fireballers

By Dan Rosen
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 24, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Ben Diggins and Brian Pemble are playing above and beyond expectations

The Arizona Wildcats are a young bunch of baseball players with a lot of potential. That is no surprise to anyone who has knowledge of the team.

Freshman Ben Diggins has a lot of power at the plate, which is the main reason head coach Jerry Stitt, a connoisseur of hitting himself, recruited Diggins out of Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott, Ariz.

Also, no surprise.

Diggins, a highly touted recruit who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in last year's amateur draft as the 32nd pick, was supposed to contend for the first base spot or designated hitter. The coaching staff also thought they would give him a chance to earn his scholarship on the pitching mound.

Hitting only .180 with a single home run and 11 RBI in 61 at-bats, Diggins needed to do something to stay out of Stitt's doghouse.

Through the time that associated head coach Bill Kinneberg has spent with the freshman on the mound, and with Diggins' hard work and determination, he now boasts a record of 5-1 with 42 strikeouts in 44 innings. Diggins has also held his opponents to a .262 average, good for fourth on the team.

"If you look back at what he's done for the past four weeks in a row, he has really picked us up pitching wise," Kinneberg said. "He was saving games or starting them, and now we have to rely on him as one of our starters. If you think about it, most of the games he has been in we have won in recent weeks."

Diggins, a power pitcher who has been able to reach the 95 mph plateau on several occasions this season, has not disappointed the Wildcats. He has earned victories in five of his seven starts with the latest being his 8 1/3 inning performance against Southern Cal Saturday on national television.

The game, televised by Fox Sports Net, was won by the Wildcats 9-4.

"It crosses your mind because you see all the cameras," Diggins said of pitching on national television for the first time in an Arizona uniform. "It's similar to making the transition from high school to college because it is the same game, but it is just on television."

The other freshman pitcher who was not as well-known as Diggins and was not supposed to be a go-to-guy in the bullpen is former Catalina Foothills (Tucson) High School pitcher Brian Pemble.

Pemble, a lefty who uses an array of nasty pitches along with finesse, came into the season unsure where he stood on the staff because he was recovering from the mononucleosis that he endured over the summer.

"A lot of people didn't know his potential because he lost a lot of weight and velocity due to the mono," Diggins said. "He gained his weight back and now he is just straight dirty from the left side. By his junior year he will be excellent, if not now. He has just stepped up big for us when we needed it."

Pemble, who is surprised by the amount of time he has spent on the field this season, is 1-1, with his win coming last week in a non-conference game against Grand Canyon. He is holding opponents to a .259 batting average and has pitched 23.2 innings in 11 appearances.

"I'm not trying to make a name for myself, I am just trying to get guys out," Pemble said. "Guys like Diggins, Kenny Huff and Shelley Duncan will always perform and you know that. I will be glad to just do my part. And this has been great so far."

Diggins and Pemble are performing above and beyond the expectations of the coaching staff now, but with the long haul of the grueling Pacific 10 Conference season still looming, no one can get too excited and they know that.

"I hope they can continue this because we are going to need them to," Kinneberg said. "Diggins will probably start every weekend and Brian knows he will pitch Sunday if he doesn't go Friday or Saturday. The coaching staff has confidence in them and so do the players behind them."

Confidence for a freshman usually goes hand in hand with how he starts each inning. Starting each inning by throwing a ball or walking the first batter can hinder the outcome of the game tremendously.

Early in the season Diggins and Pemble were both having trouble with first strike pitches, but as their experience has grown, so has their ability to fire that first pitch in the strike zone in order to get themselves going.

"Every inning that I go out there I am not thinking about the batter," Pemble said. "My mind is on that first pitch, that first strike and I have been able to do it pretty well lately."

For Diggins, it was not just the first pitch strike that has helped his confidence.

"Two things happened. Before the San Diego series I was throwing in the bullpen and Coach Kinneberg saw something in my delivery. It was small, but it changed everything," Diggins said. "Also, after my performance early in the season I knew I couldn't do any worse and I just figured I would go out and play like I always have. You can't go out there scared, you have to have confidence."

Right now, both Diggins and Pemble have all the confidence in the world when they step out on the pitchers mound. But unlike Pemble, Diggins also has to worry about getting his hitting back up to par.

"I have definitely gotten more chances with pitching to perform, so in that case I have been concentrating more. But, I am still working on getting this hitting thing worked out because hitting is still my first love," Diggins said.

Dan Rosen can be reached at