The Arizona Wildcats (33-17, 14-10) battled with Pac-12 leading Oregon State (39-9, 19-6) for most of Friday night’s series opener at Hi Corbett Field, but a big eighth inning for the Beavers handed the Wildcats a 12-9 loss.
The Wildcats began their final home series of the regular season with an aggressive approach at the plate. Arizona jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a Daniel Susac single which scored Nik McClaughry, who had doubled the at-bat prior.
The second run came after Chase Davis reached base on an error, which allowed Susac to come around to score after advancing to second on a wild pitch.
Oregon State, who came into the game as the second-ranked team in the country, responded in the third inning with four runs. They could have had more, leaving three runners left on base before a hard hit ball was handled by first baseman Tommy Splaine for the final out of their half of the inning.
Oregon State was able to battle at the plate all night long. Most at-bats were not quick, whether it ended in a runner on base or an out.
Arizona catcher Daniel Susac talked about what those at-bats can do to a pitcher and catcher.
“It’s frustrating at times,” Susac said. “But I think they (Arizona pitchers) do a really good job at handling it. Especially Trevor (Long), because I think he had the longest at-bat I think, and you can’t really get mad, hitters are good, pitchers are good.”
Oregon State would tack on to their lead in the fourth on a Jacob Melton solo home run, making it a 5-2 ballgame.
Arizona battled back in the bottom of the fifth inning with the top of its lineup. Tanner O’Tremba led off the inning with a base hit, followed by a Nik McClaughry walk and a Daniel Susac hit-by-pitch quickly loaded the bases for the Cats. Arizona brought in three runs in the inning thanks to situational hitting and a Beaver mishap.
This Arizona offensive surge was enough to knock Beaver pitcher Cooper Hjerpe out of the game early. Hjerpe has been one of the best pitchers throughout the regular season, both in the Pac-12 and nationally. Hjerpe brought a 2.08 ERA, which is second best in the Pac-12, 120 strikeouts, which leads the conference, and a 9-1 record into Friday night’s contest.
Arizona pitcher TJ Nichols stood toe-to-toe with the standout Hjerpe. Nichols went a full five innings, while Hjerpe lasted 4.1 innings. All five runs were charged to Nichols, while only three of the five Arizona runs were charged to Hjerpe due to errors.
Arizona coach Chip Hale was happy with his teams approach against a quality pitcher in Hjerpe.
“I thought we did a great job against him. We were able to hit the ball pretty hard against him, score some runs and got him out of the game in the fifth,” Hale said.
Susac credited the amount of time the team put in to preparing for Hjerpe as to why they were able to get him out of the game as early as they did.
“I think the amount of time and effort we put into him, in my opinion, was the most we’ve put in on a pitcher all year. We knew it was going to be a tough one.”
The game stayed deadlocked until the eight inning, where Oregon State exploded for seven runs in the inning, four of which came on a grand slam by Garret Forrester.
Arizona did not go away quietly, however. A pair of solo home runs from Noah Turley in the bottom of the eight inning and O’Tremba in the ninth, along with a RBI double from Mac Bingham and a sacrifice fly by Turlely brought Arizona to within three runs, but ultimately the comeback attempt ended on a Tony Bullard strikeout.
Hale says that he is hopeful the fight at the end of the game that the team showed will carry over into tomorrow’s game.
“Momentum is pretty much the starting pitcher tomorrow,” Hale said. “It’s just good to keep playing the game for nine innings.”
Game two of the series will begin Saturday at 6:00 pm. Senior Garrett Irvin (4-3, 3-1) is scheduled to make what might be his final start at Hi Corbett Field.