SCOTTSDALE — It’s no secret when it comes to the Duel in the Desert, the rivalry evokes a lot of emotions, and you could feel the energy permeating throughout Scottsdale Stadium on Friday afternoon; like the rays of sun beating down on the field.
In an elimination battle, the No. 5-seeded Arizona Wildcats were the designated home team against the No. 8 Arizona State Sun Devils. In the 8-6 win over the Sun Devil, it was a back-and-forth battle that left the Wildcats scratching and clawing to work their way to the eventual victory.
”It was great,” Arizona coach Chip Hale said. ”The fans were great, I thought both schools showed up. It’s hot. It’s a 3:00 game, but they were loud and the kids got fired up.”
Arizona State jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, putting everyone on the edge of their seats early.
In the bottom of the third, a pair of back-to-back home runs for Arizona helped the Wildcats take the lead. A three-run bomb from sophomore Daniel Susac, followed up by a solo homer from junior Tanner O’Tremba, gave Arizona a 4-2 lead.
”(Susac) was throwing up, he was real sick,” Hale said. ”We contemplated not even starting him, so once he started throwing up and was that sick, the trainer said, ’We gotta get him out.’ He was coming out of the game and he said, ‘Can I get one more at-bat?’ Thank God it was that one.”
He also noted the team has been struggling with an illness of sorts going around, but the Wildcats weren’t going to be stopped from the end goal they have in sight.
”They stuck to it, man,” Hale said. “They were not going to be denied.”
Determined to keep things going, and thanks to a sac fly from freshman Garen Caulfield, Arizona was able to stretch things to 5-2 before the end of the inning.
At the top of the fourth inning, the Wildcats pulled Susac from the game and put sophomore Cameron Laliberte behind the plate for the remainder of the game.
The Sun Devils were able to tack on two more in the top of the fifth, with Arizona making two errors in the inning as well. McClain was able to get a single, with an error by the shortstop also allowing another run to be scored to make it 5-3.
Tucson-native Nate Baez also was able to drive in a run off a single to right field, cutting Arizona’s lead to 5-4 before the end of the inning.
In the top of the fifth, the Devils kept things going by taking the lead with a two-run RBI double to right-center field, making it 6-5.
With time running out in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Wildcats were able to power ahead to an 8-6 lead off a three-run triple by sophomore Mac Bingham. Immediately, the atmosphere and energy inside the stadium shifted, and the Wildcats only needed three more outs to pick up the win.
“Mac, he’s incredible, he catches it right so I knew it was gonna go,” Hale said of Bingham’s at-bat.
Leaving a runner stranded on base, the Sun Devils weren’t able to overcome the late surge from the Wildcats, officially bringing an end to their season.
Meanwhile, Arizona will advance to the next round of the Pac-12 championship bracket, goingc against top-ranked Stanford on Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
When asked about the plan for tomorrow, Hale said, ”We haven’t even talked about it.”
He continued, ”We just need to get back, get some sleep, and get guys feeling a little bit better for tomorrow.”
While he’s unsure of what the exact game-plan will be for the top-ranked Cardinal, the Cats are anticipating Susac will be able to play tomorrow.
”It’s a 9 a.m. game, so we’ll evaluate it at 6 o’clock,” Hale said.