SCOTTSDALE — Arizona can use its last-gasp rally against top-seeded Stanford in the top of the ninth inning Saturday in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal at Scottsdale Stadium as a momentum builder heading into an expected placement in the NCAA tournament.
The No. 5 Wildcats (37-23) scored two runs and had runners on first and second base in the ninth before a pop out ended the threat in the 5-4 loss to the Cardinal (40-14).
Stanford increased its winning streak to 15 games, including two victories in the Pac-12 tournament against Arizona, which swept the Cardinal at Hi Corbett Field in March. Stanford plays the winner of the semifinal-round matchup of No. 3 Oregon State and No. 2 UCLA in the championship Sunday at 7 p.m.
Chip Hale’s team managed to win against Oregon and ASU in the inaugural Pac-12 event at Scottsdale Stadium.
“We talked about it; they did a great job,” Hale said of his team. “Coming into this thing, if we go 2-2, we’re happy, frankly. They played four games.
“It would have taken two more wins (to win the tournament championship). I don’t know … with pitching, it would have been tough to find them.”
Saturday’s game started on a sour note in the first inning for Arizona when Chase Davis injured his left shoulder when he ran into the left-field wall while tracking down a fly ball. He stayed in the game but was replaced in the lineup the next inning by Tyler Casagrande.
Davis, who later had ice strapped to his left shoulder, is the cleanup hitter who leads Arizona in home runs (16) and has 51 RBIs.
“We’ll see — he couldn’t swing,” Hale said when asked if Davis was taken out as a precautionary measure. “We’ll see how he feels in the next couple of days.”
Latest #NCAABaseball projections for Arizona going into Saturday's game vs. Stanford:
Baseball America: vs. Vanderbilt in Louisville (hosted by No. 10 seed Louisville)
D1Baseball: vs. Arkansas in Austin (hosted by No. 11 seed Texas)
— Brian Pedersen (@realBJP) May 28, 2022
Nik McClaughry, Arizona’s shortstop, said the team was not overcome by the challenge of losing Davis.
“We feel like we have confidence in every guy on the team,” said McClaughry, who hit a double in four at-bats. “No matter who’s in there, we trust him like Chip always does. We put so much work in that everyone’s prepared to play when we go out there. We’re confident in everyone.”
Arizona’s ninth inning started with Noah Turley hitting a single and Tommy Splaine following with a triple down the left field line. Mac Bingham then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Splaine and cut the lead to 5-4.
After a groundout for the second out, Daniel Susac hit a single on a 2-2 count to keep Arizona’s hopes alive. Cameron LaLiberte pinch-ran for Susac and moved to second on a wild pitch by reliever Quinn Mathews.
After Tanner O’Tremba was intentionally walked, Casagrande popped out in foul territory to third baseman Drew Bowser to end the game.
“We just need to play like that the whole game,” McClaughry said of the scoring production in ninth after Arizona went hitless in the previous three innings. “We sometimes go on spurts and score a couple of runs and then not score in two or three innings. If we can keep that (scoring rallies) throughout the whole game, then we’ll be a dangerous team.”
In the first inning when Davis injured his shoulder with the catch against the wall in left field, Stanford’s Brock Jones scored on the sacrifice fly by Braden Montgomery to put Stanford ahead 1-0.
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 28, 2022
The Wildcats rallied for two runs in the top of the third after Mac Bingham singled and McClaughry doubled. Bingham was rounding third on the play but slipped on the wet dirt from the grounds crew watering the area before the game.
Susac, who was pulled midway through Friday’s win over ASU because of a stomach flu, followed with a single to right field that scored Bingham to tie the game at 1.
Hale said he knew Susac could play when the team met for breakfast.
“He said, ‘I think I can do it.’ I actually had three different lineup cards because we didn’t know if Tommy (Splaine) could play either (from the stomach bug),” he said.
Splaine, who normally plays at first base, was used as a designated hitter.
McClaughry, who had advanced to third on Susac’s hit, scored on a wild pitch by Stanford starter Joey Dixon (6-3).
Arizona starter Anthony Susac (4-3) did not allow a hit until Carter Graham’s two-run home run to center field with no outs in the third inning that gave Stanford a 3-2 lead. Graham, who went 0 for 6 with three strikeouts when Stanford beat Arizona 15-8 on Thursday, now has 20 home runs.
Anthony Susac was relieved by left-hander Javyn Pimental after Graham’s home run. Pimental and right-hander Chris Barraza (Sahuarita grad) kept Stanford’s lineup mostly in check over the next five innings.
Breezy back out to pitch the 8th. He's got two scoreless, hitless innings under his belt so far 🔥 #BearDown
Mid 8 | Arizona 2, Stanford 4 pic.twitter.com/pVwqgo8dHi
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 28, 2022
Braden Montgomery had an RBI single in the fifth inning and Tommy Troy another RBI single in the eighth for Stanford’s other runs.
Pimental did not allow an earned run in 2 1/3 innings and he gave up three hits with four strikeouts and one walk. Barraza allowed only two hits in three innings with one strikeout and one walk. Sandwiched between them, Christian Holden pitched a scoreless 2/3 of an inning.
Anthony Susac walked four and struck out two while allowing three earned runs in two innings.
“We’re fine if we don’t walk guys,” Hale said. “The thing with (Anthony Susac), he’s gotta start throwing strikes early in the game. Those walks end up scoring. Javyn did a great job. He didn’t get hit at all.”
The one play that forced Pimental’s departure in the fifth was Jones reaching on infield single in which the lob-throw from Turley at first base was not in time to Pimental.
A throwing error by third baseman Tony Bullard on a grounder by Brett Barrera moved Jones to third base. Jones then scored on Montgomery’s single to give Stanford a 4-2 lead.
“(Pimental) didn’t cover first quick enough on a really fast runner and that hurt us and then we had the error — so that’s kind of what it boiled down to,” Hale said. “But he did a great job and I thought Barraza was huge because he’s hasn’t thrown that much all year. We thought we might as well let him go and he’s not gonna pitch in the evening (if Arizona beat Stanford to force a deciding semifinal game against the Cardinal).”
Arizona, playing its first season under the legendary Hale in his return to his alma mater, will learn of its NCAA tournament fate in the selection show Monday at 9 a.m. on ESPN2.
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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.