Arizona baseball: Wildcats split first two games of College World Series, face elimination on Wednesday
OMAHA, Nebraska – Arizona baseball’s 17th trip to the College World Series began with an assertive 5-1 win over the Miami Hurricanes. The Wildcats’ winner’s bracket matchup with Oklahoma State didn’t go as well, ending in a 1-0 defeat.
With one win and one loss under its belt, Arizona faces UC, Santa Barbara Wednesday. If the Wildcats win, they’ll face Oklahoma State again on Friday and would need to beat OSU twice to advance to the College World Series Finals.
As a team that wasn’t expected to go deep in the postseason let alone make it to Omaha, the Wildcats entered the College World Series playing with house money.
Arizona brought its loose but aggressive style into TD Ameritrade Park, knocking off the No. 3 overall seed Hurricanes 5-1 Saturday night.
A three-run first inning propelled Arizona’s starting pitcher Nathan Bannister, who struck out 11 batters over seven innings.
Arizona’s early rally all started with a few walks and a hit batsman before Jared Oliva hit a two-run single to make it 3-0.
“That’s huge, before I even throw, when the offense puts up three,” Bannister said. “That’s a good cushion to work with, especially in this park.”
Bannister’s only blemish on the mound came in the fourth inning when Miami’s Christopher Barr hit an RBI single.
Miami had the bases loaded with one out, but Bannister got out of the jam with a strikeout and a grounder.
“I have to give him credit because I thought he handled the situation very well,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said. “I thought he was a nervous early. He settled in really well.”
Arizona widened its lead when Zack Gibbons hit a two-run double in the fifth inning to make it 5-1. Gibbons, who went 2-for-3, was the only UA player to record multiple hits.
Bannister continued to shut down Miami’s potent lineup, which had previously powered the Hurricanes to a 50-win season.
Miami rarely made good contact, with most balls in play staying in the infield.
“When you look at all of those offensive players in that lineup, I don’t think the word ‘comfortable’ comes to mind, ever,” Johnson said. “But it starts with your pitcher being able to execute pitches, and Nathan did that.”
Arizona’s Cameron Ming relieved Bannister in the eighth inning, recording six uneventful outs.
The victory placed Arizona in the winner’s bracket, where it faced a red-hot Oklahoma State team Monday night.
Bobby Dalbec started on the mound for the Wildcats, shutting down Oklahoma State’s top of the order in the first inning.
In the bottom of the first, Arizona leadoff hitter Cody Ramer drilled a ball to right center, but Cowboys centerfielder Ryan Sluder made a leaping grab on the warning track to rob Ramer of an extra-base hit.
“I was already rounding second by the time I heard the crowd go wild,” Ramer said. “So I knew I’d either be standing on third or going for the inside-the-parker. So I feel like that [made it] a complete different game.”
From then on, the Wildcats hardly threatened the rest of the night, putting up only three hits on Oklahoma State starter Tyler Buffett. Only once did Arizona place a runner in scoring position.
Dalbec was equally dominant on the mound, as he recorded a career high 12 strikeouts over eight innings pitched.
Dalbec’s only mistake came in the fourth inning when he allowed a leadoff double to the Cowboys’ Donnie Walton. Oklahoma State third baseman Garrett Benge knocked in Walton on a bloop single to right center.
“Walton hit a good pitch, and then the four-hitter hit a good change up and just dumped in the outfield,” Dalbec said. “It’s just the way it goes.”
Neither team put up much of a fight offensively over the next four innings.
In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Arizona’s Gibbons hit a sharp one-out grounder to third that was well played by Oklahoma State’s third baseman. However, the throw to first appeared to bring the first baseman’s foot off the bag and Gibbons was originally called safe.
However, the four umpires then deliberated over the call before calling Gibbons out.
Johnson argued the call but to no avail.
“After [the umpires] talked about it, they said they felt like he was out,” Johnson said. “I saw one video up on the board and it looked like he was out, and then I saw another one on my phone and his foot was off the bag – he was safe.”
Ryan Aguilar recorded a two-out walk, but a weak grounder by JJ Matijevic ended the game.
Arizona next faces UC, Santa Barbara Wednesday at 4 p.m. MST after the Gauchos eliminated Miami. If the Wildcats win, they’ll face Oklahoma State Friday evening.
If Arizona wins on Friday, it'd force a Saturday rematch against Oklahoma State, with the winner heading to the College World Series Finals.
Game 1 of the College World Series Finals takes place on Monday at 4 p.m. MST. Game 2 is on Tuesday at 5 p.m. MST and an if-necessary Game 3 would be played next Wednesday at 5 p.m. MST.
All CWS games are televised on the ESPN networks.
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