— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) May 24, 2023
SCOTTSDALE — The Arizona Wildcats have won their pool in the first part of the Pac-12 tournament after picking up a 13-12 walk-off win off a single by CDO graduate Kiko Romero, who had four RBIs against Oregon State on Wednesday at Scottsdale Stadium.
There was no lack of entertainment in the game, which saw a combined 25 runs and 37 hits between the two teams in a back-and-forth fight to the finish, culminated by Romero’s dramatic game-winning RBI in the bottom of the ninth.
“It’s who they are,” Arizona coach Chip Hale said about his team’s fighting spirit. “It’s who we’ve been all year. We’ve had some absolutely gut-wrenching losses, especially to this team, and they just kept battling.”
After beating Arizona State and Oregon State in pool play, Arizona (32-23) now awaits the outcome of games on Wednesday and Thursday to determine its semifinal opponent and first-pitch time on Friday.
In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Mac Bingham was able to get the ball to drop in center field for a single before Nik McClaughry had a single to right field. The back-to-back hits prompted a mound visit for Oregon State, with Chase Davis on deck to bat.
Davis was able to get a base hit, but Bingham was tagged out before crossing home plate and the game remained tied at 12. Romero followed with a walk-off RBI single to center field to give Arizona the win.
“It ranks up there,” Romero said about the magnitude of his walk-off run. “Just keeping the season alive right there, it was definitely big. It’s definitely in the top-three moments I’ve had, for sure.”
Romero has 84 RBIs this season, tied for second in program history with Ron Hassey (1976) and Terry Francona (1980). Hassey owns the record with 86, set in 1974.
ARIZONA SEASON RBI LEADERS
Ron Hassey, 1974, 86
Kiko Romero, 2023, 84
Ron Hassey, 1976, 84
Terry Francona, 1980, 84
Terry Francona, 1979, 81
Alan Zinter, 1989, 81
Mike Senne, 1986, 80
Jordan Brown, 2005, 80
Oregon State brought the heat with it to the desert, wasting no time getting off to a hot 4-0 start in the top of the first inning.
Getting things going with back-to-back singles from Micah McDowell and Mason Guerra, Mikey Kane was able to hit a single to center field for a two-run RBI to give Oregon State the early 2-0 lead. Gavin Turley followed Kane with a double to left field, helping Kane advance to third. Tyce Peterson was up to bat next, hitting a single to center field and driving home Kane and Turley to make it 4-0.
Arizona would waste no time countering. McClaughry got the momentum started for the Wildcats with a single before Davis blasted a home run to cut the lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the first. It was the 38th home run of his career, five shy of Brad Glenn (2006-09 for second in Arizona career home runs). Shelley Duncan (1999-2001) holds the record with 55.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they left two runners stranded on base rolling into the top of the second.
ARIZONA CAREER HR LEADERS
Shelley Duncan, 1999-2001, 55
Brad Glenn, 2006-09, 43
Chase Davis, 2021-23, 38
Kenny Corley, 1995-98, 36
Nick Quintana, 2017-19, 35
David Shermet, 1985-88, 34
Les Pearsey, 1975-78, 33
C.J. Zeigler, 2007-08, 33
Moises Duran, 2001-04, 32
Todd Trafton, 1983-86, 31
Bill Rhinehart, 2004-07, 31
“(McClaughry) is a spark plug to this team,” Romero said. “He has a fiery little attitude … He’s our solo captain right now and he just lights us up every time.”
After a strong defensive outing in the top of the second, the Wildcats returned to bat in the bottom of the second. With two out, Bingham had a double to left field before McClaughry had an RBI single to cut the lead to 4-3. However, a pop-fly from Davis would end the inning and leave McClaughry stranded on base.
In the top of the third, it looked as if Kane’s hit down the right foul line was going to be caught for an out, but because of the blinding sun, the ball was dropped allowing Kane to get on base. After Kane, Turley was up to bat where he had an RBI double to left field, extending Oregon State’s lead to 5-3.
Tanner Smith came up to bat, where he also hit an RBI double to left field, pushing the lead to 6-3.
In the bottom of the fourth, Arizona was able keep the momentum going with Bingham hitting a double to get into scoring position. McClaughry followed and was walked, before Davis was able to hit a single through the right side and send Bingham across home plate to make it 6-5.
After the single from Davis, Oregon State had a change at the mound sending in Nelson Keljo and was effectively able to close out the inning, leaving McClaughry and Davis stranded on base.
Guerra came out in the top of the fifth and led things off with a double to continue through the lineup. Turley followed with another double to left field, driving in Guerra to make it 7-5. Following the hit by Turley, Arizona decided it was time to pull pitcher Casey Hintz from the mound, replacing him with Eric Orloff.
On a wild pitch, Turley was able to steal home to extend the lead to 8-5 before the Wildcats finally brought an end to the inning on a fly out.
Following a ground out to start the bottom of the fifth, Tony Bullard had a solo home run to cut the lead to 8-6 before Cameron LaLiberte hit a single. Oregon State decided it was once again time for a change at the mound, bringing in AJ Hutcheson to replace Keljo, and was able to end the inning with the Wildcats once again leaving a man stranded on base.
In the bottom of the sixth, McClaughry opened things up with a leadoff double, hitting the ball just inside the left foul line and into the corner. Davis followed things up with a single on an error, helping McClaughry advance to third with no outs. With two on, Romero crushed one over the right field wall for a three-run home run to give the Wildcats the 9-8 lead.
The hot bats continued for the Wildcats as Emilio Corona came up to bat. He had a single to center field before Salpointe grad Mason White hit a triple to center field for an RBI to give Arizona a 10-8 lead. Bullard followed it up with a double down the right field line, sending home White to stretch the lead to 11-8 with no outs.
WILDCAT WALK-OFF WIN 😼
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) May 24, 2023
Oregon State decided to once again change pitchers, sending in AJ Lattery to replace Hutcheson on the bump. Lattery was able to get two quick outs for the Beavers, but Bullard was able to run home on a wild pitch before the inning came to a close, making it 12-8 Arizona going into the top of the seventh inning.
With two on in the top of the seventh, Peterson was able to hit a single to left field for an RBI single, cutting Arizona’s lead to 12-9. Following the single by Peterson, Arizona decided to replace Orloff with Trevor Long.
Following the pitching change, Smith had a single to load the bases before Long walked Travis Bazzana, resulting in the Beavers cutting the lead to 12-10 before the Wildcats were able to get out of the inning.
The bottom of the seventh inning was the first inning where Arizona failed to put up any runs and any hits, making for a quick turnaround for the Beavers.
In the top of the eighth, McDowell led things off with a double for the Beavers before Guerra doubled to left-center field, driving home McDowell to make it 12-11. Following back-to-back doubles, the Wildcats converged at the mound to talk things over before ultimately deciding to leave Long in at the mound.
Later in the inning, Turley had an RBI single to center field, tying the game at 12 with only one out.
Peterson was up to bat next. He walked, prompting another mound visit for the Wildcats. Deciding it was time to pull Long from the game, Arizona sent in Chris Barraza, who was able to close out the inning, leaving two runners stranded on base and keeping the game tied at 12.
Going into the bottom of the eighth inning, Oregon State changed pitchers, sending in Ryan Brown to the mound. Bullard was able to split center for a single to get on base with one out, but a double-play would ultimately bring a close to the inning.
Bazzana started out the top of the ninth inning with a lead-off double, as the ball was hit into right field right up against the wall. Bazzana then stole third base as a wild pitch opened up the following at-bat for Garrett Forrester, who was ultimately walked to put two on with no outs in the top of the ninth.
Barraza was able to get out of the inning without giving up any runs.
With the game tied, the Wildcats knew they had a chance to walk it off. They just had to focus.
“That was kind of our mantra the whole time,” Hale said. “We’re gonna hit last, we’ll get a chance. … We felt good about being able to come back.”
Before the at-bat for Romero, Hale said he gave him the regular speech, telling him to hit the ball right up the middle.
The Wildcats will now have Thursday off before finding out who they’ll face on Friday in the next round of the tournament.
Hale says the team will get a good lift in on their day off and see their matchup for Friday. For Arizona, advancing to the final four of the conference tournament also helps their chances of getting to make the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t want to go home, and I know everyone else doesn’t want to go home, so that’s a big motivating factor,” McClaughry said. “I thought we did a great job of being a tough team.”
“We still have some work to do,” Hale said. “We want to win this tournament.”
Hale said picking up a win of this magnitude, especially against a team like Oregon State who walked it off against them twice this year at Corvallis, gives the Wildcats confidence moving forward.
“The season is Friday, so we gotta win and we know that,” Hale said, mentioning his team is having fun in the process.