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Wildcats look to carry momentum into weekend series against Houston

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Griffin Riley | The Daily Wildcat Dayton Dooney runs for home plate during Arizona's game against New Mexico State on Apr. 30 in Tucson, Ariz. New Mexico beat Arizona 15-11.

As Arizona baseball heads back to Hi Corbett Field this weekend coming off a huge win on the road against Texas last Tuesday, they’ll look to carry that momentum into this series against Houston before conference play begins. 

Arizona head coach Jay Johnson noted how important the win over Texas was following the disappointing loss last Sunday. 

“The loss on Sunday doesn’t really have anything to do with what happens on Tuesday,” Johnson said. “We talked about that a lot. I think … our players did a good job of moving past it and were prepared to play and really took advantage of the opportunity. I mean, we left on Monday, had a really good practice late Monday afternoon and we were prepared to play.”

The Wildcats showed off their patience at the plate drawing eight walks, which was a huge reason why they were able to come out on top on a night where the offense combined for just four hits.

“I think we took a bunch of good at-bats early in the game, cashed in on the opportunities and got a couple good performances out of the bullpen,” Johnson said. “I don’t look at it any more than that, but I’m pleased with the way they approached the game and how they took advantage of the opportunity.”

The performance from the bullpen against Texas was the biggest difference-maker for Arizona on a night where freshman Dawson Netz was forced to leave the game after one inning with an injury. Johnson noted that Netz was feeling some discomfort in his arm and was getting evaluated this week.

“Outstanding,” Johnson said on the performance from the bullpen Tuesday night given the circumstances. “I think Vince [Vannelle] is a real story to the season right now. I think when you get into something like that, it’s a great environment to play in and then he’s not expecting to be in the game in the second inning. I mean, he’s got to do all of his warmups on the game mound right in front of the other team, so we needed somebody with poise and strikes and that’s what he gives us. He had to gut it out a little longer than he normally has had to, and he did a really nice job.”

Vannelle, who gave Arizona over four strong innings against the Longhorns after Netz had to be taken out, has been the star of the bullpen so far this season, fielding a 1.35 ERA over 13.1 innings with 20 strikeouts to just three walks. 

Matthew Dyer, another player this Wildcats baseball team relies on to get the offense going, has turned things around recently with two home runs and 10 RBIs over his last three games. This comes after Dyer combined for just five RBIs with no home runs over the team’s first nine games. The versatile junior, who hit .393 last season, is just hitting his groove and will look to carry that momentum into this weekend’s series against Houston.

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“I am really pleased with Matt,” Johnson said. “He put a lot of work in last week I would say between Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday prior to the games. … He’s a good player and a good hitter and athlete. The game’s not easy all the time. He had a little bit of tough luck and maybe a little bit of trying to do too much, but we got him back into a good swing that suits his skills. I think you’re starting to see some real positive results.”

The Wildcats meet a familiar foe this weekend in Houston, who they played just last season on the road, where they lost 2-of-3 in the series. This time around, the series will be played at Hi Corbett. The Wildcats are geared up and ready to go for the series against a Houston team that has gotten off to a slow start this season, sitting at just 3-7 with one game against Rice University before they head over to Tucson.

“They’re going to come at you with three left-handed starters,” Johnson said on his initial scouting on this Houston baseball team. “Lael Lockhart we faced, I believe, and won on Sunday last year, a good competitor.”

The Wildcats defeated Lockhart last season in their lone win against Houston, scoring seven runs on six hits over the 4.1 innings that he pitched. Johnson also mentioned Clay Aguilar and Jared Pettitte, both of whom Arizona should be seeing this weekend. Aguilar has posted a 1.59 ERA over three starts this season, while Pettitte has been a little shakier, posting a 3.72 ERA over two starts.

“We scheduled them for a reason,” Johnson said. “The reason we scheduled them is over the past five years, they’ve been a top-5 non-Power Five conference-winning percentage team. I have no doubt that they’ll pick it up. I think their best days of the 2020 season are ahead of them and they’ve played a good schedule to this point.”

As the Wildcats get ready for conference play coming up next week, this will be an important series for the team to gain some momentum and confidence as a whole.

Johnson also noted that senior graduate Davis Vainer is very close to returning to the mound. 

“Well, he met me at the parking lot and said, ‘I want to pitch this weekend,’” Johnson said with a smile. “I love that out of him and that’s something that coach Yeskie, myself and Isaac Trujillo, our trainer, are monitoring along with Davis. … I don’t think we’re far away and that’s encouraging.”

The Wildcats meet Houston in a weekend series beginning Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. MST. 


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