The last time Arizona coach Chip Hale competed directly against TCU coach Kirk Saarloos was in 2004 when Saarloos was pitching in the Pacific Coast League for the Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate at New Orleans against Hale’s Tucson Sidewinders.
No. 3 Arizona (33-24) will face No. 2 TCU (37-22) in the opening round of the Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional of the NCAA tournament on Friday at 6 p.m., Tucson time. No. 1 Arkansas (41-16) and No. 4 Santa Clara (35-18) play in the first game at noon.
The head coaches and some of the players for each team took part in a press conference Thursday at Fayetteville.
“Kirk, of course I’ve managed against in the minor leagues when he was a pitcher for the Astros at the time, so I’ve known him for years and years,” said Hale, who managed the Sidewinders from 2004 to 2006 before joining Bob Melvin’s staff with the parent Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.
One of Saarloos’ teammates with New Orleans was the late Mike Coolbaugh, who is the uncle of Arizona director of player development Tyler Coolbaugh.
Saarloos has a West coast background similar to Hale and the other two head coaches in the regional — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and Santa Clara coach Rusty Filter. All four were born in California — Hale at San Jose, Saarloos at Long Beach, Van Horn at Stanton and Filter at Alameda County.
“Baseball is a big-little game,” said Saarloos, a former standout pitcher at Cal State Fullerton. “Baseball is a huge game but it is a little circle in terms of the coaching community. (The regional) definitely has a West coast flavor, for sure.”
TCU associate head coach T.J. Bruce spent the previous seven seasons as Nevada’s head coach after Jay Johnson left there for Arizona.
Arizona’s starting pitcher Friday against the Horned Frogs is Bruce’s former ace Cam Walty, who transferred to Arizona from the Wolf Pack following last season.
Arizona pitching coach Dave Lawn was Nevada’s pitching coach under Johnson and still has ties in the Reno area.
“We know him really well,” Hale said of Bruce. “They’re well coached … they’re hot right now. Hopefully we can match it.”
TCU went 15-2 in May, including a four-game run through the Big 12 tournament to earn the championship and automatic bid.
Hale’s daughter a TCU grad backing Arizona
Hale’s daughter Sabrina earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from TCU in 2020.
She is an account manager and works on strategic partnerships with Troon, a professional club management company located in Phoenix that provides management services to more than 770 locations, including at least 760 golf courses, while also managing various amenities, such as tennis, aquatics, fitness, food & beverage, lodging and homeowners associations.
“My daughter went to TCU so I’m a little bit of a TCU fan,” Hale said with a laugh. “Last year, one of my assistant coach’s daughters went to Ole Miss (Chandler Couch, daughter of Arizona assistant Trip Couch). So this is kind of a running joke with us. (Hale’s daughter) will be rooting for us. She said on her social media, she took everything off this week.”
Ole Miss defeated Arizona in the Coral Gables (Fla.) Regional last year to advance to the College World Series, where the Rebels eventually won the national title.
Arizona playing with “house money” as one of last bubble teams to qualify for NCAA tournament
Hale and Arizona’s players who were part of the press conference Thursday — Chase Davis and Nik McClaughry — did not push the “no respect” agenda bubble teams use as motivation to try to do well in the postseason.
Arizona reportedly was one of the last four teams to make the 64-team field.
When asked if his team will play as if it has something to prove, Hale said, “I don’t think so.”
“I think at this point, they’re playing their tails off,” Hale said. “They’re gonna give it all they got. You don’t know what’s gonna happen in this region. It’s obviously best case if you win three games and you move on, but it’s never that easy. Is it?
“So they’re gonna play. We talked about the last month of the season, it doesn’t matter what the score is up, down, even — we’re going to play the same way. We’re going to play confident and we’re going to play hard. I think when you start trying to prove you need to be in there, it just makes these guys too tight.”
Davis: “I think it’s one of those where we understand that we’re gonna have a huge amount of work to do in this tournament. We have great teams all over the country. This is one that we know we’re ready for. We’re super excited but very, very nonetheless tense, obviously, but loose at the same time because we have to play. We know what ceiling we have and we know we’ve gotta rise to the occasion and we’re ready.”
McClaughry: “I think we’re just playing with house money and you got nothing to lose. We’re here to play hard and we’re here to play and win games. So I think we’re excited.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.