The Arizona baseball team fell to Grand Canyon on Tuesday night 11-7 and fell to 31-15.
Arizona will have to step up its game as the season nears its regular-season end. Arizona has nine games left – USC, Oregon State and Oregon – before playing in the Pac-12 tournament. Eye on the Ball spoke to head coach Chip Hale before Tuesday’s game with Grand Canyon.
Jay Gonzales: What’s your approach to non-conference games in the middle of the season as compared to conference games?
Chip Hale: If it was early, it might be different, you might want to experiment a little bit, but now we are getting into the nitty gritty, and the RPI is so important. Nevada is second in their conference so to win these games was very important. We mainly went with our main lineup, experimented a little bit with our DH spot to see what other guys could do.
Steve Rivera: Are all these games coming up must win?
Chip Hale: Every game in college you need to win, because the RPI is so important, so it’s either a good win or a bad loss. You want to win each series of our final nine Pac-12 games. So if we can win the series in LA against USC, then go back home and win the series against Oregon State., and Oregon up in Eugene would help us get to the top of the pack.
Jay Gonzales: Is it an adjustment for you coming from the pros to the college game to know that you don’t have 162 games?
Chip Hale: That’s one of the big differences. In some ways it’s cool because every game is like a playoff game, but on the other hand it kind of limits what you can do with your roster, and you’d like to get some of the younger guys out there, but you got to go with your best available.
Jay Gonzales: In a few words, how would you describe your team right now?
Chip Hale: I think tough, we’re a very tough team. We have gone through a lot of tough road trips with inclement weather, but they’ve just played a lot of tough baseball. It’s not always pretty at times, but they just battle, and they know that if they win the last three innings, we have a really good chance to win the game. We have made some comebacks, but these last few games we want to try and make it easier on ourselves.
Steve Rivera: What has the approach been to try and keep the momentum?
Chip Hale: It’s very difficult to just run it. Tennessee is the only team I think that’s been able to do that. You’re going to go through your lulls. In baseball, it’s all about pitching. You can score 12-15 runs a game, but you got to make sure the other team doesn’t score more. We went through some tough weekends, like up in Utah, and Washington State here. It’s been tough because if you don’t get good starting pitching the first few days of Pac-12 play you put yourself in a real tough place on the Sunday game. Our pitching did a little better this past weekend in Reno, and I think it sets us up pretty well down the stretch.
Jay Gonzales: Was there a noticeable change to you about a change with the team?
Chip Hale: I think when we left Salt Lake City and flew to Omaha. We had Easter together and had a nice dinner and guys just talked with each other. It was 35-40 degrees with 40 mph winds. They kind of just banded together in a mostly empty stadium and they found a way to win games ever since.
Steve Rivera: How was getting thrown out?
Chip Hale: I’ve done it a few times in the pros. I don’t like to do it, but sometimes it helps and the guys get fired up. You just can’t do it a lot on this level because they’ll suspend you.
Jay Gonzales: Was it easier in college than in the pros?
Chip Hale: It’s easier to get thrown out in college because there’s so many rules. You’re not allowed to argue, and you can’t do this and that. I just told him to throw him out so I could argue. It was at home so I could evaluate the game still in the clubhouse too.
Jay Gonzales: What’s been the best part of college coaching, compared to the majors?
Chip Hale: I just like the collegiate aspect, like being on a campus and being a part of a whole program. Watching Jedd’s program get better and better and watching Tommy do his work and then the softball team getting better as the year’s gone on. It’s fun because it’s not just about us, but it’s about the university.
Steve Rivera: Do you talk to former coach Andy Lopez at all?
Chip Hale: I do, it’s been great to see him. I went lunch with him before the season with our coaches and we’ve seen him two or three times now. He is a great story-teller and I played a lot of Andy Lopez coached teams.
Jay Gonzales: What’s your mindset with the home stretch of the season coming up, the Pac-12 Tournament?
Chip Hale: It’s going to be fun up in Phoenix. The last nine conference games are huge for us, and Oregon State and Oregon are either even with us or ahead of us, so we can earn a higher seed in the pac-12 Tournament.
Steve Rivera: Do these last few games mean more to the committee than earlier in the season?
Chip Hale: There’s no doubt it means more. We can get up higher hopefully with our RPI, and hopefully host a regional here which would be a huge advantage for us.
Jay Gonzales: Do you like the fact there’s a tournament?
Chip Hale: Ya I do, it’ll be fun to get all the coaches and teams together. The key is to get more teams in the tournament because we need to get a bunch in.