Arizona is down to its last opportunity to qualify for the College World Series, a do-or-die situation in the NCAA baseball tournament the Wildcats as a program have faced 32 times in their history dating to 1950.
Arizona’s record in those elimination games before the College World Series: 10-22.
The 12-3 win by Ole Miss (45-21) on Saturday night at Hi Corbett Field forced a deciding game Sunday night at 6 p.m. in the Tucson Super Regional. The game will be on ESPN2 or ESPNU. Brian Jeffries will call the game on KCUB (1290-AM).
Arizona (44-16) will be part of an elimination game in a Super Regional for only the third time since the NCAA went to this format in 1999.
The Wildcats split the previous two times — winning at Long Beach State in Game 3 in 2004 and losing at Miami in Game 3 in 2008.
“We’re gonna really compete together,” Arizona first baseman Branden Boissiere said. “It’s gonna be a really good time. We don’t have to be here; we get to be here. We’re just playing a game. I’m really excited for tomorrow to see how the team bounces back.”
Arizona coach Jay Johnson reasoned about the opportunity in Game 3 against Ole Miss: “If we had one game to play on our field with this team to go to the College World Series, you take it 1,000 times out of 1,000. So we feel good about it.”
Doug Nikhazy, Saturday night’s winning pitcher for Ole Miss, is not one to lack confidence.
“We’re going to play better than them tomorrow,” said Nikhazy after his 10-strikeout performance. “We play our best with our backs against the wall. We’ll show that again tomorrow.”
When Arizona reached the College World Series in 2012 and 2016 it went unbeaten in the Super Regional round with two wins over St. John’s at Hi Corbett in 2012 and two victories at Mississippi State in 2016.
Saturday’s loss snapped Arizona’s five-game winning streak in Super Regional games.
Coaches mum about Game 3 starting pitchers
Johnson at least answered the question, although a reporter in the postgame press conference was in search of more information.
“Do you have a pitching plan for tomorrow?” the reporter asked.
“Yes we do,” Johnson answered.
“Do you care to announce it?” said the reporter.
“Nope,” Johnson said.
Guess we’ll know when we know.
A good possibility is last week’s third-game starter, freshman right-hander Chandler Murphy, who is 7-0 with a 3.63 ERA.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco was equally evasive.
“Do you have a starter for tomorrow?”
“No. Not yet,” Bianco said with a smile.
Sophomore right-hander Drew McDaniel has 13 starts, but he could not get out of the first inning last week in a 10-7 loss to Southern Miss. He allowed seven runs on six hits in 2/3 of an inning. He is 5-2 with a 6.10 ERA.
Different results for Irvin but he took loss well
Left-handed starter Garrett Irvin was coming off a three-hit complete-game shutout of UC Santa Barbara last week in the Tucson Regional but he struggled from the start against Ole Miss on Saturday.
After allowing a leadoff home run in the first inning to Jacob Gonzalez, Irvin lasted only 1 1/3 innings allowing seven runs on seven hits with two strikeouts and a walk. He faced 12 batters and eight reached base.
The hashtag #Gary became popular on social media after Irvin’s performance last week. Irvin showed his appreciation of the fans after his loss to Ole Miss with this tweet:
You’re support doesn’t go unnoticed! We’ll be back tomorrow. 🐻⬇️ https://t.co/7qdJoJMyXf
— Garrett (@garrettirvin_) June 13, 2021
Peyton Chatagnier, who also hit a home run off Irvin, was complimentary of his counterpart.
“He’s a really good pitcher; he spotted up well,” Chatagnier said. “Our bats were hot today and they’re contagious. Once Jacob got that hit in the beginning it was like we couldn’t stop us. Credit to him, though. He’s a good pitcher.”
He could have been a Wildcat
Gonzalez, a freshman shortstop and leadoff batter out of Gardena, Calif., set the tone for Ole Miss with its 16-hit attack with that home run off Irvin.
Gonzalez finished 3 for 4 with three runs and three RBIs.
“We recruited him and I wish he was at Arizona, I’ll tell you that much,” Johnson said. “We recruited him hard.
“Great player. Ole Miss is lucky to have him. We’ll go back to work on answering those questions better for tomorrow (scouting report on Gonzalez) and hopefully better execute it.”
Gonzalez is one of three Ole Miss players from California. Pitchers Derek Diamond (of Ramona) and Wes Burton (Santa Monica) are the others.
Large crowd but not largest at Hi Corbett Field
The announced crowd of 7,450 on Saturday night is the second largest for an Arizona baseball game there since the program shifted from Sancet Field in 2012.
Arizona’s 8,607 attendance vs. ASU in 2016 at Hi Corbett is most since program located here from Sancet Field. The Wildcats played at Hi Corbett before that and a crowd of 9,077 watched Arizona beat ASU 14-2 here in 1974. pic.twitter.com/mmfdlKOBEc
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) June 13, 2021
The largest crowd over the last nine years is the 8,607 that showed up on May 14, 2016, to watch Arizona beat ASU 4-2 behind JC Cloney’s solid outing over 7 2/3 innings and Bobby Dalbec earning a save with three strikeouts in the last 1 1/3 innings.
Dalbec is now a first baseman and third baseman with the Boston Red Sox who is struggling at the plate with a .195 batting average and 68 strikeouts in 174 at-bats, but he does have seven home runs and 27 RBIs.
Arizona also played some games at Hi Corbett during the 1970s. A crowd of 9,077 attended Arizona’s 14-2 win over ASU there on May 9, 1974.
The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the nation improving to 54-4 with that win.
“It was gratifying to see the people streaming in here like that,” the late Jerry Kindall told the Tucson Citizen. “I didn’t have to pep the guys up.”
Leadoff batter Dave Stegman went 3 for 4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs, and Ron Hassey was 2 for 4 with two runs in the game.
Seen at Hi Corbett
The ubiquitous Jedd Fisch, Arizona’s new football coach, made an appearance at Hi Corbett Field and watched a few innings sitting among fans in the stands.
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) June 13, 2021
Also in attendance were three members of the 1986 College World Series championship team — infielder Dave Rohde, catcher Steve Strong and pitcher Joe Estes.
Ardent Arizona supporter Kwang C. An, better known as Mr. An, owner of Mr. An’s Teppanyaki Steak and Seafood Restaurant on Oracle, was in attendance again.
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