Baseball opens Pac-10 slate

By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 24, 2005

Cats, Huskies trade court for diamond

While their schools' basketball teams battle in separate Sweet 16 games, No. 13 Arizona and Washington baseball open Pacific 10 Conference play tonight at 7 p.m. at Sancet Stadium.

After struggling through the latter part of the non-conference schedule, going 7-9 after a 9-0 start, coach Andy Lopez said it's important for Arizona (16-9) to get off to a good start with only 24 games on the conference slate.

"You want to get out of the gate good," he said. "I was used to the Southeastern Conference (where) with 30 games you've got a couple weekends where you could probably stub your toe. But I don't think that's true in the Pac-10 because you have to get going as quickly as you can."

Playing in the competitive Pac-10, which includes No. 12 Stanford, No. 18 Oregon State, No. 23 Southern California and previously ranked Washington and ASU, Lopez said his team will not face any cupcake opponents.

"I'm going to say this every weekend, there is no weak team in the Pac-10," he said. "You have to be ready to play."

Washington (13-8) provides Arizona with its first conference test after being the only school to sweep the Wildcats in Pac-10 play last season.

Right fielder Taylor Johnson (.378, six home runs, 19 RBIs) and shortstop Brett Lillibridge (.308, six home runs, 25 RBIs) lead the offensive attack for the Huskies, who average 6.4 runs per game.

"They have some really good arms, they've got some good bats in their lineup and they're going to be a tough opponent for three games," junior left fielder Trevor Crowe said.

Washington's Tim Lincecum (4-2, 3.03 ERA) headlines the pack and starts tonight against Arizona ace John Meloan (4-0, 2.97).

Meloan gets the start fresh off his Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week performance last week, when he shut out No. 1 Cal State-Fullerton for 7 2/3 innings in a 1-0 victory.

The Wildcats should be ready for the start of Pac-10 play after competing in a rigorous non-conference stretch that included series against No. 4 Texas, No. 24 Mississippi State and defending national champion Fullerton three weeks in a row.

"The whole thought I have to it is if you play someone like Texas, Mississippi State and Fullerton in three consecutive weekends, we shouldn't be shell shocked or in awe of anybody else we play the rest of the season," Lopez said.

Sophomore closer Mark Melancon, who earned Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week last week after throwing three perfect innings against Mississippi State March 11-13, said the tough schedule prepared his team for conference play.

"You don't see many teams like that, so it's always good to do that before Pac-10 because the Pac-10 is such a tough conference," he said.

Crowe said the Wildcats need to improve on situational hitting and moving runners over, saying that the team did not put all three elements together during the non-conference schedule.

"I just think it's important for us to start playing consistently whether we win or lose, where the pitching's pitching well, and the offense is hitting, and our defense is playing well on a consistent basis," he said.