The Arizona baseball program, one of the most successful historically in the nation, has shown its mettle in the situation that the Wildcats find themselves Monday against Stanford.
The No. 5 Wildcats (45-17) face their Pac-12 rivals at 11 a.m. in a losers bracket game. The No. 7 Cardinal (38-16) beat Arizona in two out of three games at Palo Alto, Calif., from May 7-9. Stanford has also won 11 of the last 13 games against Jay Johnson’s team after dropping the previous five straight.
Monday’s game will be televised by ESPNU with Tom Hart doing the play-by-play and Chris Burke and Ben McDonald providing the analysis. Brian Jeffries will broadcast the game on KCUB (1290-AM).
Arizona is expected to start left-hander Garrett Irvin (6-3, 4.19 ERA) against right-hander Alex Williams, who had a two-hit shutout of Texas Tech that clinched a spot for Stanford in the College World Series. Williams (4-2, 3.06) limited Arizona to three hits over six innings in an 8-3 win May 9.
The win-or-go-home mentality has worked to great success when Arizona won the 1976 and 1980 championships and almost pulled off a magical run in 2016 in which the Wildcats lost to Coastal Carolina in the final series.
The three championships won by Jerry Kindall all came after an Arizona loss.
Arizona lost to rival ASU in the 1976 opener but then strung together five straight wins — including a rematch with the Sun Devils in the semifinals — to claim the title. The Wildcats had lost seven straight games against Jim Brock’s team heading into that win before defeating Eastern Michigan and former big-league pitcher Bob Welch in the title game.
The 1980 team with Terry Francona again lost the opener to St. John’s and Frank Viola but then won five straight games and left Omaha with a second national title.
The 1986 champions won their first three games before losing to Miami. The Hurricanes and Florida State played in an elimination game with the winner playing Arizona for the championship. The Wildcats beat the Seminoles 10-2.
Arizona’s record in College World Series elimination games in 1976, 1980 and 2016: 14-3. The Wildcats’ record overall with the cliché of their backs against the wall is 23-13.
Jay Johnson is not one to mix the past with the present but he knows how to manage a team in this situation. In his first season as Arizona’s coach, the Wildcats lost a second-round game against Oklahoma State in 2016 and went on to four straight wins — including two victories over the Cowboys — en route to the final series against Coastal Carolina.
“I think it’s a baseball game against Stanford and Arizona on Monday,” Johnson said after Saturday’s 7-6 loss to Vanderbilt in 12 innings. “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.”
Arizona has faced Stanford once before in the College World Series after losing a first round game. That happened in 1985 after Texas defeated the Wildcats 2-1. The Wildcats lost to Stanford 9-2 behind a dominating performance by freshman Jack McDowell.
Donta’ Williams’ impressive streak
Arizona junior outfielder Donta’ Williams has reached base safely in 48 consecutive games, the longest on-base streak of his career and the second longest streak of the StatCrew era.
During his streak, dating back to March 13 against Air Force, Williams has posted a .517 on-base percentage to go along with a .371 batting average, 64 runs, 41 RBIs, 25 extra-base hits and 41 walks. He has also been hit by a pitch 15 times.
“I’ve seen it a few times; I’m not really worried about that at all,” Williams said when asked about the streak. He added that he likes to “get the momentum going for my team. They like to call me the ‘Engine’. Whatever I can do to get on base, base hit, walk, hit by a pitch, free bases, whatever, that’s what I like to do. I know my game, whatever helps the team, I do it.”
Ryan Holgate (nine games) and Williams (eight games) both currently sport extended hit streaks longer than five games.
Holgate has posted a .382 batting average, seven runs, two doubles, three home runs, and eight RBIs during his streak. Williams has hit .444 and compiled 13 runs, four doubles, one triple, two home runs, and nine RBIs during his streak.
Stanford’s Brock Jones one to watch
Stanford outfielder Brock Jones, a Baseball America second-team All-American, had a walk-off single in the 13th to beat Arizona 5-4 on May 7.
He connected for three home runs, including a grand slam, against Texas Tech on June 12 to total six RBIs and help send Stanford to the College World Series.
Jones is coming off a tough 0-for-4 outing in the 10-4 loss to N.C. State on Saturday. With the bases loaded and Stanford trailing 6-4 in the seventh, Jones popped out in the infield for the final out. Stanford rallied for three runs previously that inning.
“I think with the bases loaded and down by two with Brock Jones at the plate, I think that’s a pretty good place to be,” Stanford coach David Esquer said. “And the guy made a good pitch and got Brock out. But I give my team credit for coming back and making it a game. Because probably for six innings it wasn’t much of a game.”
Arizona on impressive run streak
Starting pitchers know they will find it tough to have a shut out against the Wildcats.
Arizona leads the Pac-12 scoring at least one run in 171 straight games. The Wildcats have not suffered a shutout loss since falling 1-0 at Washington on March 17, 2018. The Wildcats’ 171-game scoring streak is the longest active streak in the Pac-12 and 30 more games than the next closest team, UCLA (141 games).
Over the course of their 171-game scoring stretch, the Wildcats have been held to three runs or fewer just 27 times.
On the flip side, during the streak they have scored five or more runs 93 times. Arizona and UCLA are the only two programs in the Pac-12 with scoring streaks longer than 100 games. UCLA was last shut out by a pitching staff coached by current Arizona associate head coach Nate Yeskie (Oregon State, a 2-0 loss on May 24, 2008).
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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