At least Arizona knows it is not impossible to win a College World Series championship after losing an opening-round game.
Vanderbilt rallied in the bottom of the 12th to beat Arizona 7-6 on Saturday in an opening round game of the College World Series at Omaha, Neb.
Arizona lost its first round games to ASU in 1976 and St. John’s in 1980 and came back to win those titles.
The Wildcats (45-17) play Stanford (38-16) in an elimination game of Pac-12 teams Monday at 11 a.m. The Cardinal won two of three games over Arizona at Palo Alto, Calif., on May 7-9.
“Great college baseball game,” Arizona coach Jay Johnson said after the loss to Vanderbilt. “Two really good teams with really good players. Credit to Vanderbilt. Put a few more quality at-bats together. Continued to put pressure on us.
“Felt like we were on the ropes every inning doing everything we could to get out of it. Just came up a little bit short. Disappointed for our players, but we’ll be ready to go on Monday.”
After Isaiah Thomas and Parker Noland singled to open the 12th for Vanderbilt against reliever Vance Vanelle, Javier Vaz walked to load the bases.
Jayson Gonzalez, the No. 9 hitter who had three hits in the game, including a two-run home run, followed with the game-winning hit up the middle.
“Dream come true to be here and be in this situation,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve all worked so hard to get to this moment. It’s a pretty special moment.”
Vanelle got through another difficult situation with the bases loaded with one out in the 11th.
— ESPN (@espn) June 20, 2021
TJ Nichols walked Vaz, who stole second, before Enrique Bradfield Jr. walked with one out. Vaz moved to third on a wild pitch in which Bradfield walked and then Nichols intentionally walked Carter Young to load the bases.
Vanelle (5-3) struck out Dominic Keegan and got Spencer Jones to ground out to end that threat.
Arizona almost persevered through a matchup with Vanderbilt All-American pitcher Kumar Rocker and a season-high 19 strikeouts. The Commodores’ four pitchers walked only one batter.
Asked if Arizona’s lineup was pressing facing Rocker, a projected high first round pick, and Vanderbilt’s pitching overall, Johnson answered, “Somebody’s going to give that dude (Rocker) $7 million here in a couple of weeks. So, no.”
A two-run home run by Young, a former Arizona recruiting target out of Washington, in the seventh put Vanderbilt ahead 6-5. The homer, Young’s 16th of the season, capped a three-run rally that chased starter Chase Silseth from the game.
Silseth was relieved by Preston Price after issuing a walk to Gonzalez on a full count with one out in the seventh. After a wild pitch by Price allowed Gonzalez to move to second, Bradfield singled to right field to score Gonzalez.
Young, who was offered a scholarship by Johnson in 2018, followed with his home run to put the Commodores ahead 6-5.
Arizona rallied to tie the game in the ninth after Daniel Susac led off with a double and his pinch-runner Mac Bingham moved to third on Nik McLaughry’s single. Bingham then scored on Donta’ Williams’ sacrifice fly.
The Wildcats played their first extra-inning game at the College World Series since a 4-3 win over Florida State in 12 innings to open the 2012 tournament they went on to win without a loss.
Last four Arizona losses in the College World Series:
1-0 vs. Oklahoma State
5-4 vs. Coastal Carolina
4-3 vs. Coastal Carolina
7-6 vs. Vanderbilt (12)
So yeah, that’s painful as hell. But it also shows that Jay Johnson’s team is a tough out.
— Michael Lev (@MichaelJLev) June 20, 2021
Arizona weathered the dominant pitching by Rocker and broke through on Ryan Holgate’s two-run home run in the sixth to take a 5-3 lead.
Rocker, who gave up three runs to Arizona in the first inning including a two-run double to Branden Boissiere, pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed five hits and five runs (three earned) with seven strikeouts and no walks. He retired 15 straight batters before hitting Kobe Kato with a pitch and then giving up the home run to Holgate.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin went to the bullpen after that home run. Nick Maldonado, Luke Murphy and Chris McElvain (5-1) combined to strike out 12 and walk one in the last 6 1/3 innings. They allowed only five hits.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 20, 2021
Silseth out-dueled the touted Rocker, the 2019 College World Series Most Outstanding Player. Silseth lasted 6 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits and three runs with seven strikeouts and one walk.
“I felt really good about my performance,” said Silseth, Arizona’s Friday-night starter through the Pac-12 season. “I was just battling out there, competing, to give my team a chance to win. I felt like I did that. I did my job. Always have trust going to the bullpen with my guys. I’m backing them full after that.
“I thought I gave my team a chance to win and I did my job.”
Johnson was asked about having success before in the losers bracket in 2016 when Arizona battled its way back to the championship series against Coastal Carolina after losing a second round game to Oklahoma State.
“I think it’s a baseball game against Stanford and Arizona on Monday,” he said. “And we want to win that game. And we want to play our best in that game to give us an opportunity to win that game.
“I think if you look too much further beyond that, it complicates Monday. And these guys love playing together and we want to continue to play together. And we want to keep going. I think we have enough pitching to work our way back through it. But it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is Monday. And so everything will be about Monday.”
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