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Michael Lev | Arizona Daily Star | May 6, 2018

Arizona keeps itself in postseason race with UCLA sweep

As Arizona posed for its postgame picture, Wildcats coach Jay Johnson scooped up his nieces, Reagan and Harper, who then joined him for media interviews along the first-base line.

"They're gonna have to move to Arizona," Johnson joked, referring to his newfound good-luck charms who were in town from Northern California.

But he knew it wasn't luck that propelled Arizona to a rare sweep of No. 8 UCLA. It was focus, timely hitting and outstanding pitching.

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That formula worked again Saturday as the Wildcats finished off the Bruins by a score of 6-3 in front of 2,358 at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona had only five hits but again took an early lead, responded when pushed and received another stellar outing from its starter -- this time, senior Juan Aguilera.

"What a great accomplishment for our team," Johnson said. "The mental maturity that they played with was the best part about it. Staying one pitch at a time. Winning innings. Adding on to leads. Getting zeros after we scored. Just no letup today. What a special performance."

After losing five games in a row, the Wildcats (28-17, 10-11 Pac-12) have won five straight. They swept the Bruins (30-13, 14-7) for the first time since 2005 and for the first time in Tucson since 1991.

UCLA had lost three games in the entire month of April. The Bruins were averaging 7.5 runs per game entering the series; they managed just four in three games at Hi Corbett.

Arizona began the week at No. 60 in RPI. The Wildcats were 37th as of Saturday evening.

"We know what we have to do keep on going," Aguilera said, alluding to the postseason. "This is a great start. Hopefully we can keep going like this."

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Taking the baton from fellow right-handers Cody Deason and Michael Flynn, Aguilera limited UCLA to two runs in 6 1/3 innings. He didn't strike out nearly as many batters — five compared to Deason's 11 and Flynn's 12 — but Aguilera was just as effective.

The Sierra Vista Buena product, who began the season as a long reliever, improved to 6-0. His ERA is 2.01.

"There's a lot of good stories on this team right now. I don't know if there's a better one than him," Johnson said. "That's a Hall of Fame effort, and we're going to need more."

Johnson informed Aguilera that he would be starting via a text at 12:35 a.m., a little over two hours after the conclusion of Friday night's game.

"Sounds good, Coach!" Aguilera responded.

Johnson then urged Aguilera to go to bed. You'd think that would be difficult given the news Johnson had just relayed. But after taking a deep breath and visualizing how Saturday might go, Aguilera dozed off.

"I try not to worry about the stakes," he said. "I try to make sure every game's the same for me. I'm going to go out and give it all I have every time."

Aguilera exited with one out in the top of the seventh after walking RJ Teijeiro and throwing a first-pitch ball to Jeremy Ydens. Arizona had a 6-2 lead at that point.

Redshirt freshman Zach Sherman then struck out Edens and Kevin Kendall, leaving slugger Chase Strumpf in the on-deck circle.

Sherman allowed one run in 2 2/3 innings, striking out five -- including Ydens to end the game. Like Aguilera, Sherman wasn't projected to have a starring role entering the season. Now he's a critical cog in Arizona's bullpen.

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"Baseball's a funny game," senior center fielder Cal Stevenson said. "You never know who it's gonna be."

Stevenson, back in the lineup for the UCLA series after missing seven of the previous eight games because of a hand injury, jump-started the offense with a leadoff double. For the second day in a row, Arizona led 2-0 at the end of the first inning.

After Strumpf's two-run homer tied it in the top of the third, Alfonso Rivas III hit the first pitch in the bottom half over the wall in right to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead.

Arizona added two more runs in the fourth. Freshman Donta Williams' RBI triple to right-center was the key blow.

Arizona is the only Pac-12 team to have made the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons. It took a 16-14 league record to get there. After sweeping the Bruins, the Wildcats again have a shot.

"We put ourselves in this situation," Aguilera said. "We're gonna try to make sure that we get to where we want to be.

"We know what we have to do. I think we're going to be playing our best baseball toward the end of the season."

This article is written by Michael Lev from The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.