The past, present and future of the Arizona Wildcats' baseball program can be summed up in one sentence. It's all in how you pronounce it.
The reason for the UA's struggles in 2010? Bryce Ortega's back.
Why Arizona should be even better in 2011: Bryce Ortega's back.
The Wildcats' second baseman announced his return to the lineup in Friday night's season opener, going 3 for 4 with four RBIs in a 10-0 win over North Dakota State at Kindall/Sancet Stadium. The game was Ortega's first since March, when he was shelved with a fractured L5 vertebra. Though the injury may never heal, Ortega said he has found ways to play through it.
"The plan," he said, "is to play every game, every day."
If every game is as good as Friday's, the 19th-ranked Wildcats could be something special this season. Ortega ripped RBI singles in his first two at-bats, the second coming on a perfectly executed hit-and-run.
Batting with the bases loaded in the seventh, Ortega iced the game. The senior smacked a 2-2 fastball from Anthony Kliniske through a hole on the left side of the infield.
Two runners scored, giving the UA an 8-0 lead.
"I didn't try to do anything more than I've done (in the past): Just go up there hacking," Ortega said. "I try not to put any pressure on myself, just because I've been gone for a while."
Ortega's hot night at the plate overshadowed another stellar performance by pitcher Kurt Heyer.
The Wildcats' ace pitched seven scoreless innings while allowing five hits; he struck out eight and walked two.
North Dakota State managed its first hit, a Zach Wentz double, in the fifth inning.
The Bison put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh before Heyer - and Ortega - put the threat away.
Heyer, making his final pitch of the night, induced a sharply-hit ground ball by Max Casper. Ortega fielded the hard hopper and flipped the ball to shortstop Alex Mejia, who threw to first for the double play.
Heyer said the double play saved his night.
"Oh my god, you can't ask for a better up-the-middle than those guys," he said. "I didn't want to give up that shutout."
As for Ortega?
"He's got ice in his veins, man," Heyer said. "He has everything you want."
Ortega's defense is the main reason Arizona is happy to have him back. The Wildcats led the nation in double plays when Ortega went down at the start of Pac-10 play a year ago. With him out of the lineup, however, they dipped to 38th.
The Wildcats are placing an extra emphasis on defense this season, in part because offense will be harder to come by.
The NCAA now requires every team to use deadened aluminum bats, which are designed to increase safety and diminish out-of-control offenses.
Though Arizona scored 10 runs Friday, a handful of sharply-hit balls died at the warning track. The game took just 2 hours 29 minutes.
Thanks to Ortega, the Wildcats had a stress-free start.
"He brings a lot of intangibles to this program," coach Andy Lopez said. "I'm glad he's back."
• What: North Dakota State at Arizona
• When: 1 p.m.