— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) June 5, 2022
Arizona and its bats awoke early in Miami on Sunday morning with the Wildcats hitting four home runs — two by Blake Paugh in a rare start as designated hitter — as part of their 11-hit attack in a 7-5 win over Canisius in an elimination-bracket game of the Coral Gables (Fla.) Regional.
“Very proud of our team coming out after not getting much sleep and just being tough and battling and doing whatever it took to win the game,” said Arizona coach Chip Hale, whose team lost 7-4 to Ole Miss in a game that ended at almost 1 a.m. Sunday in Miami.
The Wildcats (38-24) played Canisius at 11 a.m., Miami time, less than eight hours after they tried to fall asleep for the night.
Arizona next plays Sunday night on ESPN+ against the loser of the Ole Miss-Miami game. That game between the Rebels and Hurricanes was scheduled to start at 12:06 p.m., Tucson time, Sunday.
The Wildcats responded early to their 20 strikeouts in the loss to Ole Miss with power hitting from the beginning of the game.
Chase Davis belted his 18th home run of the season, second of the Coral Gables Regional, to put Arizona ahead 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the first inning.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAABaseball) June 5, 2022
The home run off Canisius starter Chris Pouliot (8-3) occurred after Nik McClaughry walked to lead off the game and later with two outs, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by catcher Trevor Henneman.
“I thought (the energy of the team) was great,” said Hale, who won his first NCAA tournament game as a head coach at his alma mater. “I think that was the whole key was just keeping it going. I think we started off strong. Guys were excited. The bench was excited. We got some runs early. And it helps to get the energy going and then we just had to keep kind of pumping up.”
Paugh, getting his 16th start of the season as the designated hitter (first start of the postseason), increased the lead to 3-0 with a solo home run with one out in the second inning.
Paugh, who perservered through injury problems, including to his oblique muscle, had only one home run this season entering the game but doubled that amount with another home run in the seventh inning that put Arizona ahead 7-5.
He wore the “Taco Home Run Hat” twice for his two home runs — Arizona’s new way to honor the Wildcat who hits one over the outfield fence.
Heads up on the track! 🏃♂️ This one might still be rolling. #BearDown
📺 ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/x505r3i6tQ
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) June 5, 2022
“(The season) started off good and then yeah, injuries suck,” Paugh said. “Last year, I had kind of a similar situation — started off good and then got injured and I just stuck with it. The only thing you can be in those times is a good teammate.
“Just sticking through the rehab process … I was eager to get back to work and I feel like it’s done good. I just trusted the process and I was glad to get into this game.”
As was Hale.
Hale said the coaching staff assumed Canisius would start Pouliot, a left-hander, and that would fit into their plan to get Paugh, a right-handed batter, into the lineup.
“We really wanted Blake’s bat in there. He’s just a veteran. He does everything right,” Hale said. “When he’s not in the lineup, he roots for his teammates. He does whatever he can to help us win a game.
“I wanted his bat in the lineup. We had a good feeling — (assistant) Toby (DeMello) had a good feeling that (Paugh) was going to pop one. And look, he popped two.”
Arizona starter T.J. Nichols (6-4) encountered some control problems in the second inning but escaped allowing Canisius only one run.
Gibson Krzeminski started the inning with a single and advance to second base with one out following a balk by Nichols, who then hit Kyle Kush with a pitch. Nichols followed that with two consecutive wild pitches, allowing Krzeminski to score to cut the lead to 3-1.
Nichols recovered to get the last two batters to strike out.
McClaughry put Arizona ahead 6-1 with no outs in the fourth with a three-run home run after Plaugh walked and Mac Bingham hit a single.
“I thought I got under that one a little bit too much, but it was nice,” McClaughry said of his third home run of the season.
Nichols again faltered in the fifth after hitting Henneman with a pitch to lead off the inning. Mike DeStefano followed with a single, and after an out, Mike Steffen singled to score Henneman.
Vinny Chiarenza was then hit by a pitch to load the bases and Vincent followed with a single that scored DeStefano to cut the lead to 6-3.
Arizona got out of the inning when McClaughry at shortstop dove to stop a grounder and generated a double play throwing from his back to Caulfield at second base.
“You don’t really think about it,” McClaughry said of the play. “All I remember is the ball was hit pretty hard and I had to take a step back. I was hoping I threw it right to second base. If not, it might’ve went to right field.”
Nichols did not return after that inning. He allowed five hits in his five innings with four strikeouts and two walks.
While Arizona’s lineup went into a lull — not advancing a baserunner beyond second base in the next 15 batters after McClaughry’s fourth-inning home run — Canisius continued to chip away at the Wildcats’ lead.
The Golden Griffins scored two more runs in the sixth inning on DeStefano’s RBI single and Grant’s run-scoring double to cut the lead to 6-5. The hits occurred after reliever Eric Orloff struck out two batters after walking leadoff batter Carlin Dick.
Arias entered and struck out the last batter on four pitches. He then struck out the side in the seventh.
Paugh ended the run-scoring drought for Arizona with his second home run of the game, with two outs in the seventh to increase the lead to 7-5.
Arias, a Tucson High grad who is a son of legendary Arizona slugger George Arias Sr., was relieved by Quinn Flanagan with two outs in the eighth and a batter on second base. Arias retired six of the seven batters he faced. Flanagan got the last batter of the eighth to line out.
“It was huge,” Hale said of Arias’ performance. “George has pitched very well for us. … He was basically our MVP. TJ pitched a great game, but for (Arias) to come in and shut it down like he did, it was huge.”
Flanagan retired the side in the ninth for the save, his first of the season.
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
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.