Arizona Baseball

Hale on Arizona’s NCAA tourney hopes after losing in Pac-12 title game: “We deserve to be in”

SCOTTSDALE — It was a disappointing outcome for Arizona on Saturday night at the second annual Pac-12 baseball championship game. The No. 8 Wildcats couldn’t get the bats going like on previous days, falling to No. 6 Oregon 5-4 at Scottsdale Stadium.

Now, the Wildcats (33-24) must await their fate Monday when the 64-team NCAA tournament field is announced. Oregon (37-20) has earned the Pac-12’s automatic bid as the conference tournament champion.

“They pitched very well,” Arizona coach Chip Hale said about Oregon. “They did a really good job. … They had a good plan and they executed it.”

Pitcher Aiden May got the start for Arizona.

Action between the two teams first started in the top of the third inning when Garen Caulfield had a leadoff double to right-center field. Later in the inning, Nik McClaughry was able to send Caulfield home with a single, putting the Wildcats up 1-0.

Oregon wouldn’t let the run go quietly, answering with a run of their own in the bottom of the third inning. With one out, Rikuu Nishida was able to reach first base on a fielding error at third base before stealing second to advance to scoring position. From there, Colby Shade was able to single to right center field, sending Nishida home to tie the game at 1.

The Ducks kept the momentum going with a single from Drew Smith with one out. Jacob Walsh was up to bat next, and he was able to split the right side of the field for a single as Smith made his way all the way to third. With a runner in scoring position, Bennett Thompson struck out before Gavin Grant had an RBI single to make it 2-1.

After a brief mound meeting by Arizona, Nishida hit an infield single to shortstop and drove home Walsh to make it 3-1 with two outs.

Going into the top of the fifth inning, Tommy Splaine knocked the ball through to right field for a lead-off single before taking second and third on wild pitches. Mac Bingham then slapped a hit to center field to send Splaine home and cut the lead to 3-2.

Going into the bottom of the fifth inning, Casey Hintz went to the bump to replace May. Hintz was able to get three quick outs to send Arizona back up to bat in the top of the sixth inning.

“He gave us everything he had,” Hale said of May’s performance. “He did a really good job.”

May struck out five and walked only one in 4 innings while allowing seven hits and two earned runs.

Kiko Romero gave Arizona some additional momentum in the top of the sixth inning off with an inside-the-park home run, tying the game at 3. The home run sent the crowd into a frenzy as he tied Arizona’s career RBI record for a single season at 86 (matching the mark achieved by Ron Hassey in 1974).

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Oregon countered with a solo homer from Walsh to right center field to regain the 4-3 lead.

Starting out the top of the seventh inning, Oregon changed pitchers, sending out Austin Anderson to the mound to replace starter Turner Spoljaric. Splaine once again got things started off for the Wildcats by hitting a single right-center field before Bingham was walked to put two on with one out.

With two outs, Chase Davis was walked to load the bases. Romero went to the plate. Unfortunately for Arizona, Romero struck out, leaving three men stranded on base.

Early in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Wildcats made another change at the mound. Coming in to replace Hintz was Eric Orloff, who had a rough start, walking the first two batters he faced before giving up an RBI single to allow Oregon to take a 5-3 lead.

Arizona once again made a change at the bump, sending in Sahuarita High School alum Chris Barraza to replace Orloff on the bump and close out the inning without giving up any more runs.

Oregon also made a pitching change to start out the top of the eighth inning, replacing Anderson with Matt Dallas. For Arizona, the pressure was mounting if they wanted to come back and win, with only six outs remaining to do so.

The Wildcats started out the top of the eighth with a walk from Emilio Corona as they looked to ignite a rally, but Salpointe graduate Mason White hit a ground ball to second for a double play, giving the Wildcats a quick two outs.

Rising to the occasion, Tony Bullard crushed the ball over the left field fence for a home run, cutting the lead to 5-4 before the Ducks picked up the third out to reach the middle of the eighth.

It was already too little, too late. Despite a fabulous outing in the bottom of the eighth by Arizona, the Wildcats just weren’t able to get the bats going the way they needed to for a rally, as Oregon was able to get the three outs easily and bring an end to the game.

McClaughry was stranded at first base after hitting an infield single with on a full count with two outs.

While it was a crushing ending to the game, Hale said sometimes it’s the way baseball goes. He also touched on how happy he was with his pitching staff and the overall performance of his pitchers throughout the tournament.

“Other than Oregon State (in a 13-12 win Wednesday), I thought we executed very well,” Hale said. “I think our three starters are legitimate starters who can get us in the (NCAA) tournament.”

Hale believes his team has done enough to nab one of the final spots.

“I think anybody watching this game against this quality team, and the quality of teams we’ve played in this tournament, that we deserve to be in there,” Hale said.

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