Column: It's win or wait for next year for Arizona baseball
Arizona baseball’s road trip to Los Angeles this weekend was an opportunity for the team to continue their upward trajectory.
The Wildcats, who had previously won five of their past six games, came to USC’s Dedeaux Field with momentum but returned to Tucson licking their wounds after being swept by the Trojans.
Arizona’s bats fell silent against USC starters Wyatt Strahan and Bob Wheatley on Thursday and Saturday, resulting in shutouts. Strahan outdueled Wildcat ace James Farris and pitched a complete game — limiting Arizona to just five hits while striking out eight. Strahan only allowed one hit after the fourth inning.
On Saturday, Wheatley put in seven strong innings of work and allowed Arizona just two hits.
Although Arizona’s pitching was respectable and did all it could to match up with the Trojans, Arizona’s inability to convert two-out hits played a large factor in its demise. The Wildcats were outscored 8-4 on the weekend after putting up nine runs the weekend before.
On Friday night, Arizona’s offense struggled, going 1-for-10 with runners on base and stranding 16 base runners over the weekend. USC, on the other hand, scored three runs in two-out situations and went 6-for-17 with runners on base on Friday.
Timely hitting, a skill that has been absent for most of the season, continued to elude the Wildcats as the Trojans outhit them 28-12 over the series.
Even though the UA was able to set the table, execution was the kiss of death, and simply put, the main reason for the series loss was that Arizona couldn’t finish. Thursday and Saturday’s games were pitchers’ duels, with one inning determining the outcome of the game.
On Saturday, no runs were scored until the home half of the seventh inning, when USC pushed across two after consecutive singles and a two-out double opened the floodgates. Arizona was unable to retaliate. Wildcat runners never made it past first base, and USC silenced any threats from Arizona, allowing no hits in six at-bats with runners on base.
The Wildcats’ rotation looked better than usual, however, with senior Farris and sophomore Tyger Talley both putting in quality starts despite suffering losses. Farris nearly matched Strahan and went eight innings strong with six strikeouts on Thursday, while Talley threw six innings of scoreless ball before allowing two Trojans to cross the plate in the seventh on Saturday.
With tough series coming up against ASU, Oregon and Stanford, the Wildcats will need to pull themselves together if they want to earn a postseason spot. Currently, if Arizona drops another series, any hopes of the playoffs will likely end, and the Wildcats will have to look toward next year to achieve their goal of playing baseball in June.
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17