Sluggers Travel to Arizona For Series





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When it comes to baseball, a team can never dwell too long on a good outing. There simply isn't enough time.

With 55 games in three months, the Cal baseball team must put its excellent series against then-No. 3 Cal State Fullerton - it took two out of three from the Titans - out of its mind and focus on improving its Pac-10 record.

Tonight will be its first chance to do so. At 7 p.m., the Bears open up a three-game series against Arizona in Tucson.

While most sports fans in the desert will be glued to the NCAA Tournament to see if the Wildcats basketball team lives up to its No. 1 seeding in the West Region this weekend, Cal cannot afford to get caught up in March Madness. The Bears have their own challenge to face.

"(Arizona has) an impressive lineup, especially in their ballpark," Cal closer David Cash said. "The ball really flies there, so it's definitely going to be a test for our entire (pitching) staff. But we're confident that if we make our pitches, we should be OK."

Judging from the past few weeks, the Bears (9-13, 1-2 in the Pac-10) could ace the test. The pitching staff has clearly been the strongest part of a team that has struggled at the plate. Despite ace Jon Shirley missing the CSUF series with a sore triceps (he is expected to miss his start Sunday as well), the staff gave up just 11 earned runs against the nationally ranked team.

Senior right-hander Brad Steele contributed to Cal's win Saturday by giving up just two earned runs. He has been the workhorse for the Bears, leading the team with 49.2 innings pitched. Cal hopes he can turn in another strong effort and buck history with Arizona - Steele is a career 0-2 with an ERA of 11.10 against the Wildcats.

"We know we just have to go after them," Steele said. "I am going to throw my strikes and let the defense back me up."

The Bears defense is likely to be busy against a talented lineup that includes junior first baseman Ernie Durazo (.441, 3 HR, 19 RBI) and sophomore designated hitter Ben Diggins (.400, 6 HR, 21 RBI).

But the offensive power has not been enough for the Wildcats (15-13, 0-0) this season. At the beginning of the month, Arizona State scored an astounding 55 runs against Arizona in a three-game sweep, including a 32-3 drubbing of the Wildcats.

It has not gotten much better since then for the Wildcats. The staff was roughed up for 10 runs in a loss to No. 7 Houston Tuesday. Still, Cal's hitters cannot rest easy.

"(Arizona has) always really talented," fifth-year senior Sam Petke said. "We ask the guys to really focus on staying on top of the ball."

The strategy for the Bears will be to take out the starting pitchers early.

"We have to try to get into their bullpen," said Petke, who has been around long enough to know how to beat the Wildcats. "We need to get to their relief pitchers."

Indeed, the bullpen is the weakest part of Arizona's squad. Only two relief pitchers have ERAs under 9.50.

Numbers aside, the goal for Cal is simple. The team showed what it is capable of when it won the series against Cal State Fullerton, but that will not mean much if the Bears cannot execute in Pac-10 play. They dropped their first Pac-10 series, two games to one, to Washington State the first weekend of March.

"We set out to win all of our games and win all of our series," Cash said. "But with it being a Pac-10 series, we definitely have to take advantage of every opportunity that we get in order to make a regional (postseason berth)."

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