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February 15, 2013

No. 24 Arizona to start title defense against Coppin St.

A short monologue from the 1994 Ken Burns documentary "Baseball" contains a passage that reads:

"[Baseball] is a haunted game, where each player is measured by the ghosts of those who have gone before."

As much as the 2013 Arizona Wildcats crave their own identity, people will always size them up to last year's national championship squad. And in some cases, it may make sense.

For instance, Kurt Heyer, now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system, and current UA ace pitcher Konner Wade attack the plate with similar mentalities. Each pitcher has earned his pedigree through nasty off-speed pitches and ball movement, and neither truly contains a blow-it-by-you fastball.

Outside of that, however, this team will have a completely new look.

To begin, Joey Rickard, last season's leadoff hitter and ninth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays, will likely be replaced at the top of the order by freshman Scott Kingery.

Kingery, who suffered from mononucleosis for much of spring camp, showed enough talent throughout the offseason to warrant high praise from head coach Andy Lopez in the weeks leading into the season

Batting 2-3-4 for 24th-ranked Arizona on Opening Day will likely be utilityman Joseph Maggi, Pac-12 Conference batting champion Johnny Field and Louisville Slugger preseason third-team All-American Riley Moore.

Maggi, who hit .326 and started 27 games at first base last season, returned to the outfield for a majority of the offseason. Although the sophomore out of Phoenix, Ariz., is a natural outfielder, he is more than willing to play wherever he is needed the most.

"It's all about the program and not myself at this point of my career," Maggi said.

As of Wednesday, Lopez still wasn't 100 percent sure whether Maggi would start the year in the outfield or at first, but guaranteed that he will be in the starting lineup.

Coming in at Nos. 5 and 6 in the lineup will be third baseman Brandon Dixon and second baseman Trent Gilbert.

Dixon - who has really come into his own at third base, according to Gilbert - should benefit extremely well from being an everyday starter. In 2012, Dixon hit .245 in 155 at-bats.

Gilbert, one of the many College World Series heroes in 2012, said the lineup will produce at a high level once again this season.

"It might not have as much star power, but we have a lot of good young guys, guys who can step in and do good from the start," Gilbert said. "All of the returners have gotten even better and I believe we can surprise a lot of people with our hitting."

Freshman shortstop Kevin Newman will bat between 7 to 9, and the last two spots in the lineup remain up in the air.

As for the pitching staff, Wade will start Fridays, James Farris will take Saturdays and, announced Wednesday, Stephen Manthei will be on the mound Sundays.

In 2012, the bullpen pitched extremely well for a spot of the roster that was regarded as a weakness throughout the year. Probably the most telling sign of its dominance was the 47-0 record in games the Wildcats held a lead or were tied after eight innings. Just soak that in for a minute. That's how you close out games.

This year, closer Mathew Troupe, reliever Tyler Crawford and senior Tyler Hale will combine with freshman Nathan Bannister, Cody Moffett and Tyger Talley to make up the majority of the bullpen.

The Wildcats, selected to finish fifth in the Pac-12 coaches' poll, will open the season with a three-game series against Coppin State. The Eagles posted a woeful 1-53 record last season, including an 0-24 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

First pitch Friday at Hi Corbett Field is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST.

Danny PassovoyDanny Passovoy
GOAZCATS.com Baseball Staff Writer

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