Arizona Wildcats split two games at home with Central Michigan
Branden Boissiere bats during an Arizona baseball game at Hi Corbett Field.
The Arizona Wildcats returned to Hi Corbett Field coming off a successful weekend in San Diego where they won 2-of-3 games at the Tony Gwynn Legacy tournament, and they looked to stay undefeated at home when they took on Central Michigan.
Arizona was not able to capitalize, however, falling 4-2 in 10 innings against the Chippewas, dropping its record to 5-3 overall and just 3-2 since their opening series sweep over Albany.
Arizona head coach Jay Johnson was clearly frustrated with his team's effort and performance following the game.
“I just don’t think we’re taking the caliber of at bats that we hold to the standard around here, and you know there’s a lot of different reasons for that," Johnson said. "Baseball is a hard game, and I think a few guys are struggling with confidence that have had success before."
Johnson appeared to be hinting towards two of his stars from last season: Matthew Dyer and Dayton Dooney who are hitting .161 and .154 respectively so far this year. This comes just one season after Dyer hit .393 and Dooney hit .323. It is still early, but Johnson knows what these players are capable of and wants to get them back on track.
"I think Donta [Williams] has been incredibly solid. Austin [Wells] has been solid; he didn’t have a great game tonight, but he’s been solid. Ryan Holgate has been good. But it just can’t be those three guys.” Johnson said Wednesday. “We have guys other than them that are good players — they’re really good players. And I think there is some self-doubt, you know, those kinds of things. Maybe some pressing, maybe some external factors, you know that they’re trying to prove themselves. We’ve got to get them, kind of just contained back into a solid approach.”
Arizona fell behind 2-0 in the fourth inning after Dawson Netz surrendered a two-run home run. The freshman lefty threw a very solid game outside of that one pitch in his second collegiate start, going 4.1 innings allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Junior Ian Churchill replaced Netz in the fifth inning with a marvelous appearance out of the bullpen, working 2.2 scoreless innings to keep the Wildcats in the game.
Central Michigan brought an interesting strategy to the game, bringing in a new pitcher every inning to keep the Wildcats lineup guessing as to what they were going to see on the mound.
It was in the fifth inning when Johnson countered that, pinch-hitting Tyler Casagrande and Branden Boissiere back-to-back for Kyson Donahue and Mac Bingham. The duo coming off the bench both managed to get on base, including a beautiful bunt placed by Casagrande down the third baseline. This was the first time the lineup showed any signs of life after they managed just one hit through the first four innings, as Williams hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Casagrande for the first run of the night for the Wildcats.
"It was a little bit that, and a little bit to get us going," Johnson said when asked if pinch-hitting Casagrande and Boissiere was a strategy to counter Central Michigan's new pitcher. "I mean [Casagrande] is a high energy player and got a drag bunt down. I thought guys would be fresh, they'd be excited about the opportunity to get in there and compete and that's what that was."
After Churchill's 2.2 scoreless innings, Blake Peyton and Preston Price both kept Central Michigan's lineup in check to keep the Wildcats down just one run heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Wildcats were down to their final six outs, down one run at this time.
Arizona put runners on base after the Chippewas pitcher Ian Leatherman walked Holgate and Dooney. Johnson pinch-ran Kobe Kato at second base for Holgate, which ended up making the difference to tie the game as he scored from second base after Jacob Blas worked a full count before hitting a slow chopper to first base.
Gil Luna worked a scoreless ninth inning, which gave the Wildcats a chance to walk it off in the bottom half of the inning. After Williams reached base with a single, he attempted to score the winning run on a bloop single by Ryan Paugh that felt like it was in the air forever. Williams was ultimately thrown out at home for the third out of the inning, sending the game to extra innings.
“You gotta roll the dice there with two outs," Johnson said. "You live by the sword. You die by the sword. He is a great competitor, nobody wants to win on our team more than him. I mean, he is the most sold out player on our team. Good throw by them, a good long hop made it easy for the catcher to handle it.”
Luna came back out for the top of the 10th inning and did not seem to have his command from the start, walking the lead off hitter Zach Heeke, before he reached second base on a wild pitch and scored soon after on a single to left-center. Zach Heeke, son of UA Athletic Director Dave Heeke, wound up scoring the winning run with his father, mother and other relatives taking the game in from a suite. The Chippewas wound up scoring one more run that inning before the Wildcats went down quietly in the bottom half of the inning.
“Just respecting every opportunity we have to compete, and making sure we’re ready to play," Johnson said when asked what he wanted his team to take from this loss. "That means different things to different people. For us it should mean playing with great fundamentals, being very competitive and playing in the character that we hold to a high standard. That’s a good team that’s gonna want a lot of games, and I’m glad we have another crack at them on Friday.”
As the Wildcats looked to bounce back in their second meeting with Central Michigan, it was ultimately up to the bats to find a rhythm and come alive.
It was more of the same story for Arizona early in the game with the offense struggling and pitching keeping the team in the game, something that would have been unthinkable just last season.
Junior lefty Garrett Irvin started the night for the 'Cats, keeping Central Michigan in check early in the game as the Wildcats managed to record just one hit through three innings.
The Chippewas struck first with one run in the fourth inning, but Arizona quickly answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning after Boissiere hit a sacrifice fly to score Dyer.
Irvin finished a very impressive outing going six strong innings allowing just one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. It was a nice bounce back game for Irvin, who gave up five runs over five innings against Southern Illinois in his previous start.
The Wildcats put two more runs on the board in the bottom of the sixth inning after Tony Bullard hit a sacrifice fly. Williams hit a two out RBI single to put Arizona up 3-1 and put Irvin in line for his third win of the season.
The 'Cats added on two more runs in the eighth inning as Vince Vannelle closed the game out for Arizona, throwing three shutout innings allowing just two hits and earning his second save of the season.
It was a nice rebound for the Wildcats lineup, though they are still averaging a mere three runs per game over their last six contests after scoring 38 runs in their opening series sweep over Albany. The pitching continues to be the bright spot of this team early this season under associate head coach Nate Yeskie.
The Wildcats will be back in action at Hi Corbett this weekend with two games against Rhode Island. The first game is Saturday at 6 p.m. with the second game coming on Sunday at noon.
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