College World Series Finals: Arizona beats Coastal Carolina 3-0 in Game 1 behind Cloney's complete game shutout
Arizona pitcher JC Cloney (27) pitches against UC Santa Barbara on June 22 in Omaha, Nebraska at the College World Series. The Wildcats defeated Coastal California in the first round of a best-of-three series on Monday, June 27.
OMAHA, Nebraska — The stage grew but the theme held steady for Arizona baseball on Monday night, as the Wildcats opened the College World Series Finals with a 3-0 win over Coastal Carolina.
Arizona is now one win away from its fifth national title.
The Wildcats received yet another stellar pitching performance, this one courtesy of JC Cloney, while the offense struck early to provide the right-hander with a small cushion on the mound.
Cloney tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just four hits while striking out six Chanticleers. Cloney becomes the first pitcher in College World Series history to toss a complete game shutout in the Finals.
“I'm still trying to figure out what just happened,” Cloney said after the victory. “Tomorrow morning I'm sure I'll be a little sore, a little tired. But we'll figure that out tomorrow.”
Cloney was methodical on the mound as he relied on his changeup to induce the Chanticleers into 14 groundouts.
Coastal Carolina only recorded one hit through the first seven innings.
“We set our defense for our pitchers making pitches,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said “And our pitchers are making pitches that are helping us get them to hit the ball where we want them to.”
It was the second dominant performance of the College World Series by Cloney, who threw seven shutout innings in Arizona’s elimination win over UC-Santa Barbara last Wednesday.
Just like Cloney’s last start, the Arizona offense got on the board early.
The Wildcats scored in the first inning when Ryan Aguilar singled in Cody Ramer, who led off the game with a double down the left field line.
The UA rammed up the pitch count of Coastal Carolina starter Zack Hopeck, forcing the sophomore to head to the dugout after 6.1 innings pitched. Cole Schaefer relieved Hopeck and finished the game for the Chanticleers.
Arizona added on to its lead in the seventh inning when Cesar Salazar led off with a single, followed by a Louis Boyd sacrifice bunt that advanced Salazar to second.
A wild pitch moved Salazar to third, while Ramer reached base via walk.
Zach Gibbons then hit a fly ball to center with enough distance to bring Salazar home. Ramer risked the sure run when he decided to tag up and advance to second, barely sliding under the tag.
“It wasn't the most ideal thing,” Ramer said. “But I saw a little opportunity when both infielders vacated the bag, and I figured if I got to the outside, slid in, I would be safe, which would get me into scoring position with two outs.”
On the very next pitch, Ramer’s risky decision paid off when Aguilar scored him home on a two-out single to left, giving Arizona its third run of the game.
But the story of the night was Cloney, who was eager to toss a full game after being pulled early against UCSB.
“I think he wanted to kill me against [UC]Santa Barbara when he hadn't given up any runs,” Johnson said. “[Today] I went up to talk to him in the eighth, give him reinforcement on something, and he was like, ‘Get away from me.’”
Cloney found himself in some trouble down the stretch.
With one on and two outs in the eighth, Coastal Carolina’s Michael Paez hit a deep fly to right field that carried all the way to the warning track.
Gibbons, not knowing that the wall was right behind him, made a jumping catch at the wall to save a ball that only missed home-run height by a few feet.
Then in the ninth inning, Cloney allowed the first two batters of the inning to reach base before recording a double play to put the Wildcats one out away.
After a lengthy at bat, Cloney struck out G.K. Young to end the game.
Arizona attempts to sweep the best-of-three series Tuesday night when the two teams rematch at 5 p.m. MST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Johnson said postgame that he did not know who will start on the mound for Arizona on Tuesday night.
Cloney’s performance saved Johnson from having to go to the bullpen, where Cameron Ming was warming up in the late innings.
Ming could be the most logical choice to start Tuesday given his success in Omaha thus far: 10 innings pitched, only one earned run allowed. Ming last pitched Friday, when he tossed five innings against Oklahoma State.
When asked about Nathan Bannister, Johnson said that the senior played catch Monday, which is a “good sign.”
“Nathan was better today than he was Sunday and better than Saturday,” Johnson said. “And we'll evaluate him again tomorrow.”
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