Team USA defeats Arizona as Bobby Dalbec makes his return to Hi Corbett Field
Cameron Haskell pitching during Arizona's game against New Mexico state on April 30 in Tucson.
There were mixed emotions on the field at Hi Corbett on Saturday evening as Bobby Dalbec, who was part of the Wildcats' 2016 run to the College World Series, made his much-anticipated return to Tucson, this time in the opposing team’s clubhouse. The emotions were all over the place for Dalbec on a night during which Team USA defeated Arizona 9-7 in ten innings.
“It was weird,” Dalbec said after the game. “I’ve been back here quite a bit, but not playing against them or really playing in general. It was definitely a different feeling.”
Dalbec, who did a little bit of everything for the Wildcats during his three-year tenure here with Arizona, showed off his complete package of skills on Saturday. He made several tough plays on the field at third base look easy while going 1-4 at the plate with a single and hard-hit line drive out on his first at-bat of the game, where he received a welcoming ovation from the Wildcat fans.
“He’s a player,” said Team USA manager Scott Brosius of Dalbec. “I think this had to be a great evening for him, a fun night to come back to, and he didn’t disappoint. He played really well and he is going to be a major part of what we do.”
Despite the emotions that were on the field, there was still a game to be played.
The Wildcats got off to a hot start with a four-run first inning, capped off with a Blake Paugh two-run homerun blasted to left field. This came after Tony Bullard ripped an RBI double down the third base line earlier in the inning.
Head Coach Jay Johnson used his full arsenal of pitching throughout the night, throwing out a new pitcher every inning throughout the first nine innings. After a disappointing year for the UA pitchers last season, Johnson wanted to test out his arms against Team USA, most notably his freshman pitchers in Garrett Irvin and Dawson Netz. Irvin and Netz both threw scoreless frames.
“I was very pleased with a lot of the new pitching,” Johnson said. “I think when you look down the sheet, Garrett Irvin is a guy that we have a lot of hope for. I mean he’s got the it factor, along with the pitch ability to be really successful. Dawson Netz, a high-level freshman pitcher for us, walked the lead-off guy but immediately got a double play.”
Arizona’s pitchers looked very impressive for most of the night, shutting down Team USA to just two runs through seven innings. Sophomore Tyler Smith entered the game with the Wildcats up 7-2 in the eighth inning, struggling with his command from the start, as he allowed five runs to tie the game at 7 after eight innings. It was not a good start to the season for Smith, as he allowed four hits, walked two batters and hit another batter as part of what was a disastrous half-inning for Arizona after they had controlled the first seven innings.
Sophomore Randy Abshier, who was named the Wildcats' Summer Pitcher of the Year by Johnson, worked a scoreless ninth inning, working around a couple walks.
As Arizona looked to win the game in the bottom half of the inning, Blake Paugh hit a single to left field with a runner on second and two outs. Coach Johnson waved Branden Boissiere around third base, but he was thrown out at home plate to send the game to extra innings.
Abshier came back out to the mound in the 10th inning. He was the first Wildcat pitcher all night who had appeared in more than one inning. He continued to struggle with his control, surrendering two runs before the Wildcats went down quietly in the bottom half of the inning to end the night.
“I think his good pitches were good, but he has got to throw more strikes,” Johnson said of Abshier’s performance. “Plain and simple. I expect him to be better. He did have a great summer, and I’m excited for some of the development I have seen out of him. As a matter of fact, going back to bullpens a few weeks back. And he was dominant against our offense last Saturday. I am sure they will get back to work together and get him back on a good track because we will be a much better team if he can pitch to his potential.”
Despite the loss, Arizona saw a lot of great performances throughout the night, most notably from players in this highly-touted freshman class that was ranked as the No. 11 class in the country by Collegiate Baseball. They not only got scoreless innings from Irvin and Netz, but also saw a great performance by outfielder Mac Bingham who is one of the higher touted players in this class this year for Arizona. Bingham blasted three doubles, showing off his aggressiveness and speed on the night.
“Mac [Bingham] did a nice job,” Johnson said. “He’s a good player. We picked him up this summer due to some coaching changes and he fits our profile very well. He’s strong, physical, fast, athletic and he’s a great competitor.”
Johnson also joked about not wanting football Head Coach Kevin Sumlin to steal Bingham away from the baseball team since he was also a high-school football star.
Transfers Davis Vainer and Ian Churchill also tossed scoreless innings, and reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Austin Wells blasted a three-run homerun to dead center field.
We also saw junior Matthew Dyer not only go 2-3 at the plate with two singles and a stolen base, but he also played three different positions on the field as he saw time at center field, catcher — where he threw a runner out at second base in the fifth inning — and third base. He is the true definition of a utility player for the Wildcats.
“He is the best player on our team at every single position, with the exception of maybe shortstop, but if we put him at shortstop, I’d expect us to win the game,” Johnson said when asked about the flexibility of Dyer. “He is a great athlete and there can’t be a more complete player in the country relative to defensive versatility, and he’s a good offensive player.”
Arizona will play their second of three games on the fall schedule on Nov. 9 back here at Hi Corbett Field at 11:00 a.m. MST against Cal Poly Pomona.
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