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Friday February 23, 2001

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Wildcats play host to Utes with 6-game streak at stake

By Brian Penso

Arizona Daily Wildcat

On the heels of a season-high six-game winning streak, the UA baseball team will try to add Utah to its list of victims this weekend at Sancet Field.

First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. today.

The Wildcats (11-7, overall), who have not faced the Utes (7-6) since 1989, hold a 45-3 all-time lead over Utah.

"We need to stay focused and continue our work ethic this weekend," UA third base coach Victor Solis said.

While Arizona has received praise for its offensive production, it's the team's pitching and defense that have helped spur the winning streak.

In the past six games, UA has held its opponents to 22 total runs. Arizona pitchers have averaged 7.7 strikeouts per game during the stretch.

"We're playing better overall," UA head coach Jerry Stitt said. "Our pitching has improved because our defense has been a lot better recently."

UA will have its hands full with the Utes, who have won 11 of their last 12 games against opponents such as No. 12 Nebraska.

Stitt will once again look to his freshman pitchers to lead the way as Marc Kaiser and Sean Rierson are scheduled to take the mound.

Utah will counter the Wildcats' young pitching staff with a pair of upperclassmen - junior Ryan Bailey and senior Brett Lindsey.

The Utes' pitching staff will have to contend with a Wildcat offense that has scored 66 runs during its winning streak behind a balanced hitting attack.

Early in the season, the Wildcat offense was relying on senior first baseman Ernie Durazo and junior right fielder Shelley Duncan to carry them.

However, the recent production by the team's other starters - including junior shortstop Brad Hassey - has helped fuel a more fearsome attack at the plate.

Since being moved to first in the order, Hassey has hit .393 with a team-high 12 runs scored.

Durazo - one of the Wildcats' most consistent hitters - is riding a career-high 21-game hitting streak, which has given Duncan and sophomore second baseman Matt Abram more RBI opportunities.

"We are improving every time we step on the field," assistant coach Victor Solis said. "We are hitting the ball real solidly right now and we are not striking out. Up and down the roster people are contributing."

With Pacific 10 Conference games approaching, Stitt said the Wildcats will need to continue their improvements as the season progresses.

"As time goes on, we're getting better," Stitt said. "We need to play hard every game and continue to play good defense. If we play good defense we will win because I know that we can score runs."