A grand slam in the first inning by Arizona’s Noah Turley over the Blue Monster in centerfield should be enough to ignite the Pac-12’s first-place team and subdue the conference’s cellar dweller.
The opposite occurred Friday night with Washington State scoring 11 unanswered runs en route to an 11-5 win in front of 3,430 at Hi Corbett Field.
The loss makes Arizona 21-9 overall and 9-4 in the Pac-12, in first place a half-game ahead of UCLA (21-8, 7-3) and one game in front of Oregon State (22-7, 8-5)
Washington State is now 11-18 and 3-10.
Arizona has lost consecutive games against Arizona State (in a non-conference game Tuesday at Phoenix) and Washington State by allowing a combined 21 runs and 27 hits.
Arizona legend Chip Hale, in his first season as head coach, did not have much to say after the game.
“Every now and then you have a bad night,” said Hale, referencing directly Arizona’s top four batters in the lineup — Mac Bingham, Daniel Susac, Tanner O’Tremba and Chase Davis going a combined 0 for 17.
Susac, a Golden Spikes Award candidate, had his worst batting performance of the season going 0 for 5.
Arizona starter TJ Nichols, who entered the game with a 2.34 ERA, looked like he was in control after pitching two hitless innings.
The tide started to turn like a tsunami, however, in the third inning with Washington State rallying for five runs on four hits and three walks to take a 5-4 lead.
Nichols (4-2) walked three straight batters after allowing a single and then the Cougars hit three straight singles in the prolonged inning that included 10 batters coming to the plate.
The fourth inning again was bleak for Nichols, who was relieved by Quinn Flanagan after allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the inning.
Three runs eventually scored on an RBI single by Jack Smith, sacrifice fly by Collin Montez and another RBI single by Jake Meyer, a Scottsdale Desert Mountain product who was briefly with the Arizona program in 2018 before transferring to Washington State.
Nichols, coming off an effective seven innings in last week’s 8-3 win at Washington, struggled in three innings against the Cougars allowing six hits and seven runs (all earned) with three walks and one strikeout.
“I’m not a pitching coach,” Hale said when asked if he noticed anything mechanically that might have affected Nichols’ performance.
Washington State up 8-4 now.
Final line on Nichols: 3+ IP, 6 H, 7 R (all earned), 3 BB, 1 K, 2 HBP
Most runs he’s allowed in his career
— Brian Pedersen (@realBJP) April 9, 2022
Washington State added another run in the fifth on an RBI single by Elijah Hainline and two more in the sixth on Justin Van De Brake’s two-run single to increase the lead to 11-4.
Arizona finally got to the Cougars’ left-handed starter Cole McMillan in the sixth after McMillan settled down following the grand slam by Turley.
Garen Caulfield‘s double with two outs scored Tommy Splaine, who doubled to lead off the inning, to cut the lead to 11-5. McMillan (2-3) exited, pitching 5 2/3 innings and allowing five hits and five runs (all earned) with three walks and a strikeout.
Arizona threatened again with two outs in the eighth inning, loading the bases after Tony Bullard and Caulfield singled and Nik McClaughry walked. Bingham hit a dribbler to reliever Caden Kaelber, who threw Bingham out at first base to end the threat.
The Wildcats went down in order in the ninth.
Hale had a relatively quick meeting with his team in right field after the game.
“What do you want me to tell them? Do you guys want to write something out for me?” Hale told reporters. “We lost. For some reason, everybody thinks there’s like this magic pill that we can give them. There isn’t. We just got our butts kicked tonight.
“You’ve got to come back tomorrow and hopefully win tomorrow. But you never know. We went to Washington and won three. Who knows what’s gonna happen? We’ll just play the best we can tomorrow and let the chips fall where they may.”
Arizona will try to even the series Saturday at 6 p.m. at Hi Corbett with left-hander Garrett Irvin (3-1, 2.40 ERA) going against Washington State right-hander Grant Taylor (2-3, 4.11).
The third game of the series is Sunday at noon.
Hale does not believe the loss against the struggling Cougars is a wakeup call.
“We already had that at ASU. … that’s got nothing to do with it,” he said. “They beat us. We didn’t pitch well.”
He then looked at the scoreboard and mentioned, “we played good defense, no errors tonight,” trying to get a saving grace from the evening.
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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.