Game One of the Super Regional series at Hi Corbett Field could’ve been mistaken for a home run derby for Arizona fans in the 9-3 win over Ole Miss on Friday night.
Tony Bullard had two home runs and a triple, with Donta’ Williams and Jacob Berry joining in on the fun, each with a home run of their own. Arizona needed that after falling into a three-run hole to start the game in the top of the first.
A win Saturday at 7 p.m. for Arizona (44-15) against Ole Miss (44-21) and its All-American lefty Doug Nakhazy will get the Wildcats into their 18th College World Series.
Ole Miss came to Tucson swinging in the first inning, with the first pitch from Arizona starter Chase Silseth driven to right field for a double. Another double to right field and a single up the middle and the Wildcats found themselves in trouble before they even swung the bat.
“I’m proud of the team’s response, with that being said, I’m not surprised. We want to play in character, that’s something that is really important to me, and I thought it was just another example of the character of our team,” said Arizona coach Jay Johnson.
It was a situation that the Wildcats found themselves in seven days ago against Grand Canyon in the first game of the Tucson Regionals, where they fell behind 4-0, eventually coming back to win 12-6.
Bullard, who was incredibly instrumental in that win as well, says that those rallies are a benefit to the team moving forward.
“I know that everyone on this team are great competitors and they grind no matter what’s thrown in front of us, so I knew when we were down we’d come back,” he said.
Bullard and the Wildcats began chipping away at the Ole Miss lead immediately, with leadoff man Donta’ Williams sending a shot to center that was initially ruled a double and was overturned by review to a home run. The Wildcats were the benefit of two replay calls, one being overturned and the other call being confirmed (when Bullard slid in safely to third base for a triple in the sixth).
Silseth went 4 2/3 innings, and while he did give up the three-run first, he held the Rebels in check for the rest of the night, going scoreless over the next three-plus innings of work.
While Silseth’s final stats may not look pretty, Johnson was incredibly complimentary of Silseth and was pleased with the way the sophomore right-hander battled adversity throughout his start.
“Chase really wanted to come out and set a good tone, actually. I thought he pitched pretty good,” said Johnson. “There were a couple mistakes. It never really got off the rails for him though. I’m really proud of him”
Arizona’s bullpen was asked to carry to rest of the pitching load for the night, with left-hander Riley Cooper getting the assignment after Silseth. He went 2 1/3 innings, giving up no hits and only walking one batter.
Cooper, who is a freshman from Fresno, Calif., has been called upon in high-leverage situations this year, a kind of trial by fire for the young pitcher.
He had the attention of Johnson and his coaching staff throughout high school, and Johnson noticed something particular after watching him in two or three different outings.
“It was like ‘We gotta get this guy’ to my assistants, both of them at the time … ‘We gotta get Riley Cooper,'” said Johnson. “There was just something different with the competitiveness.”
Cooper was asked to come in with runners on first and second with two outs. His role in the bullpen has increased all season, and with the suspensions of Randy Abshier and Gil Luna (for undisclosed school disciplinary reasons), he was the first out of the bullpen once again on Friday night.
Cooper said his mentality stays the same, no matter the circumstances of the appearance.
“Just to play it like it’s just another game, not to put anything too much on it, and just go do what I am supposed to do out there,” he said.
It was much of the same as the righty Dawson Netz came in the top of the eighth inning and went 1-2-3. Johnson went with Vince Vanelle to close the door in the ninth inning and Vanelle retired the side in order.
Bullard hit his home runs in the bottom of the second and fourth inning, the second tying the game at 3. He also added a triple to his 3-for-4 night in the sixth.
Bullard says he has changed his batting stance recently to allow for his legs to do more of the work and get that extra power in his swing, which is clearly paying off.
Tony Bullard's last 7 games:
5/27 vs Dixie St: 1-4, RBI
5/28 vs DS: 3-4, 2 R, 5 RBI, 2HR, 2B
5/29 vs DS: 2-4, R, RBI
6/4 vs GCU: 3-5, R, 3 RBI, HR, 3B
6/5 vs UCSB: 3-4, R, 2 RBI, HR
6/6 vs UCSB: 1-3, 2 R
6/11 vs Ole Miss: 3-4, 3 R, 2 RBI, 2 HR, 3B
16-28 (.571)/6 HR/14 RBI
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) June 12, 2021
Berry added to the Arizona home run onslaught in the fifth inning, giving Arizona a 5-3 lead.
It was only fitting that in the eighth inning, with the bases loaded, where the Wildcats did a lot of their damage in last week’s regional tournament, that the guy who got the offense started Friday — Williams — blew the game open with a two-out, bases-clearing double that electrified the 5,839 at Hi Corbett and increased the lead to 9-3.
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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.