The Arizona baseball team fought its way back from a mountainous eight-run deficit but couldn’t rack up enough runs to win the game, losing 14-6 to USC at HI Corbett Field on Saturday night to close the regular season.
Despite losing the final game, Friday’s doubleheader sweep was enough to give Arizona the series win and the No. 8 seed in the Pac-12 tournament that starts Tuesday at Scottsdale Stadium.
Arizona (30-23, 12-18 Pac-12) has its sights set on Arizona State (31-22, 16-13), the first team it will play in the tournament at 10 a.m.
The last time the Wildcats and Sun Devils met, Arizona run-ruled the game winning 20-0 on April 19 at Hi Corbett Field.
Arizona coach Chip Hale, whose team won four out of its last five games in the regular season, believes his team is up to the challenge of playing ASU on the first day of pool play.
“We’re excited to play anybody,” Hale said. “We’re swinging the bats well. We got the right guys on the mound. We’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’ve played everybody in the league. We’ve had big wins against some of them and we’ve had big losses. We just have to play good baseball.”
Before the start of Saturday’s game against USC (33-22, 17-13), Arizona’s eight seniors were honored in front of a passionate home crowd of 4,448 fans.
“It’s been huge,” Hale said about the impact of this year’s seniors. “When I came here last year they took to me and the staff really well. It’s not easy when coaches change. They never stopped playing hard, even when we struggled. I felt like they always hustled and they did their best and led the way seniors are supposed to lead.”
The seniors are outfielder Mac Bingham, third baseman Tony Bullard, outfielder Colton Moore, shortstop Nik McClaughry, outfielder Tyler Casagrande, pitcher George Arias Jr., pitcher Derek Drees and pitcher Chris Barraza,
TJ Nichols got the start in the game, the first starting appearance he had since March 31. Usually, it is Pima College transfer Aiden May who starts on the mound in the third game of a series.
In the first inning, Nichols struck out the last two batters to reach a milestone of 200 strikeouts in his collegiate career with Arizona.
“We were saving (Aiden) May for Tuesday,” Hale said. “The only difference is we play at 10 a.m. or we play at 2:30 p.m. Whether we won or lost, we play ASU.”
The USC bats got rolling from the first pitch and quickly jumped to an 11-3 lead by the fifth inning, largely due to a five-run fourth inning that saw Ryan Jackson and Cole Gabrielson hitting multiple-run homers.
The Trojans tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning before the Wildcats would attempt a come-from-behind win.
Bingham started the attempted rally in the bottom of the fifth inning with a home run that cleared the left-field wall.
After McClaughry struck out swinging in the next at-bat, Chase Davis was due up next and crushed the pitch beyond the center-field wall. It was his career-high 19th for a season (he had 18 last year as a sophomore). He also is now alone in third on the Arizona career charts with 37 career home runs, six behind Brad Glenn for second and 18 back of Shelley Duncan for the record of 55.
Kiko Romero kept the fifth inning hitting streak alive with a home run to left-center field, drawing the Wildcats closer to tying at 11-6.
The home run put Romero at 80 RBIs, six behind the school record of 86 set by Ron Hassey in 1974. Romero leads the Pac-12 in RBIs this season.
Emilio Corona was the next batter and struck out swinging. Mason White was the final batter of the inning and fouled out to the USC third baseman.
The three-run inning was the final time a Wildcat would touch home plate for the remainder of the game.
USC would put one more run up in the seventh inning and two more in the eighth to close out the scoring.
On Wednesday at the Pac-12 tournament, Arizona will play No. 18 Oregon State (39-16, 18-12) at 10 a.m.