J.J. Matijevic had the offensive game of his young collegiate career last night to help Arizona baseball thwart No. 10 ASU (28-13, 13-5 Pac-12 Conference) 17-6 and snap a five-game losing streak.
The freshman stole the momentum for the Wildcats (25-17, 9-12) in an explosive first inning where he hit his first career grand slam for his second home run of the season.
Matijevic — who went 3-for-4 on the night — came back and hit a 2-RBI triple in the second inning and added an RBI single in the fourth. He was replaced by Sawyer Gieseke in the sixth.
“I’m just having the right approach,” Matijevic said. “I’ve been playing like a freshman for too long, and now’s the time to get hot. I’ve got to do whatever I have to do to help this team win.”
Batting just .192 at the beginning of the series against California last weekend, Matijevic has raised his average to .228 in four games since. He was one of six players to record at least one run on the night.
The Wildcats were 20-for-43 at the plate with three home runs. Batters only struck out three times, with Jared Oliva recording two of those.
“It was J.J. giveth and J.J. taketh away there for awhile,” Arizona coach Andy Lopez said, laughing. “He had a great night offensively, but he’s got to get better on defense.”
Matijevic committed three of Arizona’s five errors at first base. He said his performance on defense was “unacceptable” and something he needs to get better at.
Aside from the errors, Arizona’s pitching was without much fault. Reliever Robby Medel went 6.1 innings, recording two strikeouts and allowing three runs, one of which was unearned, on eight hits.
“I thought Medel was outstanding,” Lopez said. “It was kind of a neat thing. After the game on Sunday, he came to me and said, ‘I want the ball.’ … For him to do that and then back it up by pitching like that was pretty good. That’s [the] factor we are missing.”
Medel, like Matijevic, said it was time for him to step up and contribute to the team, and the win was exactly what Arizona needed going into the last three conference series of the season.
“I knew I could come out and pitch well, and it was good to eat up innings and get a win,” Medel said. “But either way, you have to come out, throw strikes and get outs.”
ASU opened the game with three consecutive hits off UA starter Cody Hamlin, including an RBI double by No. 2 batter Jake Peevyhouse. The Sun Devils tacked on another run before giving Arizona a chance at the plate.
That’s when the Wildcats took control.
After a groundout by Scott Kingery, Arizona recorded three consecutive singles, the third an RBI single from Bobby Dalbec. ASU starter Ryan Hingst then walked designated hitter Michael Hoard, loading the bases for Matijevic.
The rest is history.
Arizona scored in every inning but the seventh, when ASU’s Tucker Baca gave up a triple to Justin Behnke but retired the next three batters to escape further damage.
Kingery led off Arizona’s half of the fifth inning with a solo home run to go up 11-4, but the Wildcats didn’t stop there. Three batters later, Dalbec hit a three-run homer, his 13th of the season, to capitalize on back-to-back walks given by the Sun Devils.
ASU walked seven batters, including three consecutive walks — one of which ASU reliever Jordan Aboites hit Dalbec in the back — that scored two unearned runs in the sixth.
“As a team, we need to forget where we were and where we have been,” Medel said. “We need to build off this and go into [Pullman, Wash.], and win one in a row three times. All we’ve got to do is win one in a row.”
Arizona’s 17-run night was its largest of the season. The Wildcats scored 16 runs against Eastern Michigan on Feb. 14.
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