It’s hard to imagine a situation where a team that was down 4-0 in one game this weekend had a tougher challenge in a game they led wire to wire, but that is exactly what could be said about Arizona’s win Sunday in the finals of the Tucson Regional Tournament at Hi Corbett Field Sunday night.
The Wildcats punched their ticket to the Super Regionals with a 5-2 win over the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Hi Corbett Field.
It won’t be much of a trip however, as the Wildcats will play host to Ole Miss (43-20) or Southern Miss (40-20) at Hi Corbett Field. Their inter-state battle will take place Monday at 10 a.m. local time to determine who will be booking their flight to Tucson International Airport for next weekend.
Arizona’s rematch with UCSB lived up to the hype and then some, as fans were treated to a tough, gritty game that was the closest that Arizona looked to being mortal this weekend.
“This was a really hard game tonight, a really, really hard game tonight, there was no two-ways about it. We couldn’t have won if each of those guys out of the bullpen didn’t come in and do what they did,” said head coach Jay Johnson.
Arizona did have the benefit of a fresh and rested bullpen thanks to Garrett Irvin’s complete-game gem that was thrown 24-hours prior, and Johnson took advantage of that throughout the middle and late innings of this game.
The Wildcats, who were back to batting in the bottom of the inning, took control of the game in the second inning thanks to some perfectly placed hitting by Kobe Kato, Ryan Holgate and Tanner O’Tremba. Kato and Holgate had hits over and just out of the reach of fielders gloves, while O’Tremba used the shift to his advantage and found the hole on the right side of the infield.
The Gauchos struck back in the top of the third with a base hit that scored UCSB catcher Gianni Bloom from second, making it 2-1.
From there on, it was a game of stranded runners, with Arizona and UCSB both taking turns leaving runners in scoring position.
“The pitching from Arizona made big plays when they needed to. We weren’t able to get big swings off, we had more chances today and squandered that with some non-execution,” said Gauchos head coach Andrew Checketts. “They didn’t give us a lot of room to breathe, they mixed and matched and when we did have opportunities we weren’t able to maximize them”
One of those chances was a bases-loaded, two out jam that Arizona starter Chandler Murphy got out of in the top of the fourth, striking out pinch-hitter Christian Kirtley to end the inning and electrify the home crowd.
Murphy was effective through five innings, holding the Gauchos to seven hits and one run, but never really felt like he was able to get into a groove with the constant traffic on the basepaths.
Pitching has been the question for this Arizona team throughout the season. With such a high-powered offense that is going to put up a lot of runs every game, the real question was whether the pitching staff would be able to keep them in close games.
“It’s an everyday working culture here, it’s about improvement on a daily basis,” said Johnson when asked about the work that the team has put in on the pitching and the defensive side of the ball.
“We have depth, we have a lot of depth, I mean it is hard to prepare for our entire staff because there is left, there is right, there is velocity and changeups, there is real out-pitch breaking balls so we can really match up at a high level,” Johnson said.
The top of the fifth brought the rarely seen 6-3-5 double play as a Gauchos runner was trying to leg out an extra base before being thrown out on a great throw by first baseman Branden Boissiere.
Through much of the fourth, fifth, sixth inning, the feeling in the stadium was that the Arizona offense was knocking on the door on a big inning to extend the lead.
After a promising start to the sixth inning turned to disaster after a Daniel Susac walk and a Kobe Kato hard hit ball that the Gauchos were able to double up the runners, it happened.
Tony Bullard reached on a two-out single to left, and then Ryan Holgate sent a towering two-run shot to right field, just missing the Terry Francona Hitting Center to give the Cats a 4-1 lead.
“I was glad everyone on the team was sticking with the plan and we were all just doing what we do and what we work on everyday at practice, and just bring a good team effort into putting some good wins together,” said Holgate.
Holgate is excited about the opportunity to host the Super Regionals next weekend at Hi Corbett, and he credits the fan turnout over the last few days as motivation for the team.
“The whole team is pumped up that we get to stay here in Tucson because, we love our fanbase, our fanbase has been awesome, they’ve had a great showing and just a lot of people coming out, a lot of support and that’s something that will always fire us up.”
After that homerun, there was a sense of relief throughout the home crowd, but that quickly went away as a rough top of the seventh inning saw Jay Johnson need to use three relievers in one inning, eventually getting out of the inning but the Gauchos were able to add one run on a wild pitch that made its way to the backstop.
The eighth inning was once again beneficial to the Wildcats, as it has been all weekend, another great example of two-out hitting when Nik McClaughry singled to right-center, driving in Tony Bullard who walked to lead off the inning to extend the Wildcat lead 5-2.
The ninth inning was just as much of a roller coaster, with Vince Vannelle tight-rope walking through traffic on the basepaths to secure the win for the Wildcats.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Harrison Moreno is a southern Arizona native who has watched Wildcat athletics since he was young kid. He recently is a graduate of The University of Arizona’s School of Journalism, with a focus in broadcast and audio journalism.