Arizona gave Ole Miss a hard punch in Game One, the Rebels responded with their best cuts in Game Two, and after 46 runs scored in the Tucson Super Regional, it was the Wildcats who delivered the knockout blow in Game Three on Sunday.
Arizona (45-16) is headed to its 18th College World Series and third in the last nine years with its 16-3 victory over Ole Miss (45-22) of the big, bad SEC.
The Wildcats are in the second College World Series under sixth-year coach Jay Johnson, who topped legendary coaches Jerry Kindall and Andy Lopez with that feat. It took Kindall seven years to reach his second CWS and Lopez 11 years at Arizona.
Arizona will open the CWS against another SEC team, Vanderbilt, on Saturday at Omaha, Neb.
“I can’t even begin to express it because of the respect I have for both of those men,” Johnson said when asked what it means to him to join Kindall and Lopez as coaches who have taken multiple teams at Arizona to Omaha.
Frank Sancet also coached Arizona to nine College World Series in his 23 years.
Kindall’s teams advanced that far five times in 24 years and Lopez took the Wildcats there twice as a 14-year coach at Arizona.
“Completely different style of coaches but the best,” Johnson said of Kindall and Lopez. “They’re the standard. They’re why I take this job (seriously). Jerry Stitt, throw him in there as well. Jim Wing, throw him in as well.
“Sometimes I pinch myself that I am the head coach at the University of Arizona. Honestly, all I want to do is make everybody who cares about this program, this university from this town, proud.”
The Wildcats pounded 20 hits, 10 for extra bases, on Sunday, an indication of their potent lineup throughout the season.
But it was the pitching of Dawson Netz and TJ Nichols on Sunday in front of 5,139 at Hi Corbett Field that was the difference, subduing Ole Miss after the Rebels tallied 16 hits in a 12-3 win on Saturday.
Pitching coach Nate Yeskie and Johnson opted to not to start effective freshman right-hander Chandler Murphy, who was 7-0 with a 3.63 ERA in 19 appearances, eight of them starts, and the decision worked.
The script developed by Johnson after he awoke without an alarm at 5:30 a.m. called for Netz for two innings, Nichols to pitch through Ole Miss’s order, to Riley Cooper for five hitters, Murphy through the order and then Preston Price, Ian Churchill and Vince Vanelle finishing by facing two or three batters each.
“But we got the lead and TJ got rolling,” Johnson said. “I like the way that worked out better than what was scripted in my head.”
— Arizona Baseball 🏆 (@ArizonaBaseball) June 14, 2021
Netz retired the first six batters he faced (two by strikeouts) and was pulled by Yeskie for Nichols in the third inning after giving up a leadoff single.
As Arizona mounted its lead, Nichols allowed only three hits in 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and one walk. When he was relieved in the bottom of the seventh, his teammates came out of the dugout to greet him and the fans stood and cheered.
“(Johnson) kept me in there; I’m just grateful he kept me in there,” said Nichols, who previously this season reached at five innings four times and was 3-0 in those games.
“I was given the opportunity to succeed and I did my best. So yeah, it was great.”
Arizona’s Tony Bullard, shifted to the cleanup spot from No. 6 in the order, extended his hitting streak to nine games with an RBI single with two outs in the first inning to get the lineup going.
Branden Boissiere, who hit a double off the base of the left-field wall before Bullard came to the plate, scored to put the Wildcats ahead 1-0.
Hayden Dunhurst greeted Netz in the third with a rope to right field for a single and that’s when Yeskie immediately pulled him.
Hayden Leatherwood tagged Nichols for a double to right-center field to move Dunhurst to third base, and Cael Baker followed with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Dunhurst to tie the game at 1.
Nichols worked out of the inning by getting Jacob Gonzalez to fly out and Peyton Chatagnier to strike out.
Ole Miss stuck with starter Tyler Broadway, normally the closer with 16 saves, past the first two innings and it may have backfired. Broadway had never started before in his Ole Miss career. The move was made after injuries affected the staff, especially starter Gunnar Hoglund, who had to undergo Tommy John surgery in May.
TJ Nichols went above and beyond what Yeskie and Johnson likely wanted. Impressive performance. pic.twitter.com/ZcYAkCbRxu
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) June 14, 2021
Donta’ Williams singled with one out in the third and Jacob Berry followed a home run over the wall in right-centerfield. Berry’s second homer of the Super Regional and 17th of the season put Arizona ahead 3-1.
Arizona then took control with a seven-run fourth inning in which they chased Broadway and reliever Jack Dougherty. The Wildcats totaled six hits with eleven batters coming to the plate that inning to take a 10-1 lead.
The biggest blows were a two-run home run by Ryan Holgate, an RBI double by Williams and a bases-clearing double by Boissiere. Kobe Kato started the inning with a single (before Holgate’s homer) and also doubled.
“I think this is the best offense in Pac 12 history. I’m not a historian so I can’t validate that. But if there’s one that’s equal, I mean, I’d like to see what that look like,” Johnson said of his lineup that has produced the most runs in the nation.
The lead grew to 13-1 in the fifth inning on Berry’s RBI double and Boissiere’s two-run single.
Here is how the top six batters in Arizona’s lineup fared in the Super Regional:
- Donta’ Williams, 8 for 14, six runs, six RBIs, two HRs, two doubles
- Jacob Berry, 5 for 13, four runs, six RBIs, two HRs, one double
- Branden Boissiere, 10 for 15, four runs, five RBIs, three doubles
- Tony Bullard, 5 for 13, three runs, four RBIs, one HR, one triple
- Kobe Kato, 4 for 11, three runs, three RBIs, two doubles
- Ryan Holgate, 5 for 12, three RBIs, one HR, one double
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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