College World Series: Nathan Bannister strikes out 11 batters as Arizona beats Miami 5-1
OMAHA, Nebraska — Pitching in the College World Series is a barbarous task, but Nathan Bannister handled it well, as he brought Arizona a step closer to the summit of college baseball, leading the Wildcats to a 5-1 victory over the University of Miami Hurricanes at TD Ameritrade Park Saturday night.
There’s no prerequisite for a college pitcher who wants to feel what it’s like to throw in front of a crowd of 25,715 people after having pitched in front of crowds of 2,500 people all season long.
In college football, quarterbacks gain enough experience performing in front of mammoth audiences through early-season showcases and Thanksgiving-weekend rivalries. In college basketball, the stage progressively rises until the season culminates in one oversized stadium.
But in college baseball, the jump from pitching in Regionals to Super Regionals to the College World Series is not unlike attempting to climb Mount Lemmon one week, then Mount Everest the next.
Bannister is one of the lucky few who made it past the preliminary stages of college baseball’s ravenous postseason. He made it through a marathon Regional in Lafayette, Louisiana — pitching 14 innings in one weekend. Then he dropped solid line of work in Starkville, Mississippi in Game 1 of the Super Regional.
His reward? To take the mound on the opening night of the College World Series.
It was the fifth consecutive start in which Bannister had gone at least six innings while allowing three or earned runs or fewer.
“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.”
The Arizona offense sedated Bannister’s nerves some by giving the senior a three-run lead before he even took the mound.
In the top of the first, Miami left-hander Michael Mediavilla walked two batters and hit two more before a Jared Oliva two-run single gave Arizona a 3-0 lead.
“That’s huge, before I even throw, when the offense puts up three,” Bannister said. “That a good cushion to work with, especially in this park.”
Mediavilla bounced back with scoreless innings in the second, third and fourth innings, but the Wildcats tacked on two more runs in the fifth on a two-run double by leadoff batter Zack Gibbons.
Gibbons went 2-for-3 on the night with a pair of RBI. No other Wildcat recorded multiple hits.
Miami’s only run off Bannister came in the fourth inning when first baseman Christopher Barr hit an RBI single to right field.
Barr’s single left the bases loaded with one out, a situation that could have undone an unsteady mind.
But Bannister delivered, first sitting down Miami’s nine-hole hitter Edgar Michelangeli on strikes.
“That strikeout, coach [Dave] Lawn called it perfectly.” Bannister said. “A couple breaking balls and a good fastball outside.”
Bannister then induced a groundout to end the inning, and Miami never threatened from that point on.
In total, Bannister struck out 11 Hurricanes with seven of those strikeouts catching Miami looking.
The Hurricanes, who out-hit Arizona 9-7, entered the College World Series with one of the most potent offenses in the country, but they rarely hit the ball out of the infield in their first game in Omaha.
“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 and successfully closed the game out. The sophomore allowed just one hit over the final two innings.
Arizona will next face Oklahoma State on Monday at 4 p.m. MST. The Cowboys defeated the University of California, Santa Barbara 1-0 Saturday afternoon.
“All year we’ve been preparing to make Omaha,” Bannister said. “That’s every team’s dream. And just to come out tonight and was really to enjoy the moment and have fun.”
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