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Defense and pitching stifle Arizona baseball, splitting the weekend series against Rhode Island

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Caleb Villegas | The Daily Wildcat Tucson Ariz.- Pitcher, Zack Sherman (19) closing after starting pitcher Andrew was taken out on Sunday April 14, 2019 at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona wins 4-2 in the series finale against the California Golden Bears.

After splitting two games with Central Michigan to begin the homestand, the Arizona Wildcats looked to pick up their offense, which had been struggling in two games against Rhode Island. They looked to pick up some steam heading into a game against the University of Texas on Tuesday. Here's how they fared. 

Saturday

After averaging just over three runs per game in their previous six games, the Wildcats looked to get back the offense that finished No. 3 in the country last year in batting average (.326) and runs scored (548). 

Arizona got off to an early 2-0 lead after Austin Wells and Branden Boissiere each recorded an RBI hit in the first inning before the Wildcats ultimately broke the game open in the second inning, scoring eight runs to take a 10-1 lead and ultimately winning the opening game against the Rams 19-10. 

Quinn Flanagan started the game for the Wildcats, throwing 4.2 innings and allowing seven runs on five hits with four walks and five strikeouts. However, only one of those seven runs was earned, as the Wildcats committed four errors on the night, including two in three plays by freshman shortstop Kyson Donahue, who now has five errors on the season. As the Wildcats took a 13-1 lead going into the fifth inning, Rhode Island was able to put six runs on the board in part due to those two errors by Donahue, cutting the Wildcats' lead in half. 

Randy Abshier replaced Flanagan in the fifth inning but struggled early on and was only able to pitch 0.2 innings, allowing three runs on three hits, including a balk that scored a run for Rhode Island. This cut the Wildcats' lead to 15-9 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, when Arizona was able to add on two more runs with a Donta Williams RBI triple following by a Wells single. The Wildcats were able to add on one more run the next two innings and ultimately take back control of the game that got a little too close for comfort for the Wildcats after getting off to a huge lead early. 

Matthew Dyer, who was hitting just 0.161 earlier in the year after hitting 0.393 last season, had his biggest game of the young season, going 2-for-4 with three RBI’s and his first home run of the year. Meanwhile, freshman Blake Peyton earned the win, tossing 2.2 hitless innings with four strikeouts and three walks. 

RELATED: Arizona Wildcats split two games at home with Central Michigan

Sunday

As the Wildcats were coming off their best offensive performance of the season, they looked to carry that momentum into Sunday as they concluded this short four-game homestand. 

Freshman Chandler Murphy, who had started his collegiate career throwing 10.1 shutout innings heading into this afternoon’s game, was on the mound for Arizona as they looked to win their third game in a row. Murphy started the game off slow, walking the bases loaded after retiring the first Rhode Island hitter he had faced, but he was ultimately able to limit the damage to just one run. He wound up, giving one more run in the second inning and was pulled quickly, lasting just 1.1 innings, allowing three runs on two hits with three walks and two strikeouts. 

After falling behind 3-0 early, Arizona got one run back in the second inning before the offense came to life, scoring four runs in the third inning. They nearly batted around the lineup, including RBI hits from Wells, Boissiere and Ryan Holgate. 

Rhode Island got two runs back in the fourth inning to tie the game before the Wildcats plated another run in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead back, as they led 6-5 through four innings. The two teams each added two more runs in the sixth inning.

Gil Luna came into the game out of the bullpen in the seventh inning, holding the Rams scoreless after walking the first two hitters. He came back out for the eighth inning, recording two quick outs before he started to lose his control, walking two batters and allowing a single to tie the game at 8-8. He was then replaced by Nate Brown out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and two outs, who walked the first hitter he faced on four pitches to give Rhode Island a 9-8 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. 

Williams led off the eighth inning with a walk, his fourth one drawn on the afternoon, and was driven home on an RBI single by Dyer after he reached second and third base on a wild pitch and passed ball. Dyer stole second base and reached third on a groundout by Boissiere before he scored on an infield single by Jacob Blas, who just beat the throw as he slid into first base. 

Brown came back out onto the mound in the ninth inning looking to close the game out, but allowed two Rhode Island hitters to reach base with one out. Arizona wasted no time taking him out. They replaced him with freshman Wesley Scott, who had thrown three scoreless innings on the season coming into the afternoon. Scott hit the first batter he faced to load the bases for Rhode Island before walking the next hitter to tie the game. The Wildcats once again wasted no time, bringing in Zach Sherman out of the bullpen, whose first pitch thrown was a wild pitch, allowing the Rams to once again retake the lead at 11-10. Rhode Island added on four more runs, as they plated six runs in the top of the ninth inning to blow the game open.

The Wildcats loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom half of the inning as they put together a two-out rally but ultimately fell 15-11, dropping their overall record to 7-4 on the season. 

Austin Wells led the offense with 3 hits, while Tony Bullard and Mac Bingham were close behind with two each, with eight different hitters recording an RBI. 

“It’s a balanced team,” head coach Jay Johnson said when asked about the recent production from the offense. “This is a good offensive team. We’ve actually faced some pretty good pitching so far across our schedule and you have to kind of peel back the layers to look at that. And guys are kind of getting their legs underneath them for the season. We needed to really make some adjustments this week and we did that, and now I think we need to do a good job of that moving forward." 

The pitching staff has struggled these past couple of games after starting the season off hot, allowing 25 total runs in the two games against Rhode Island. They struggled specifically with their command Sunday afternoon, combining for 14 total walks and just four strikeouts as a pitching staff. 

Johnson knows how good the pitching staff has been for the most part so far this season and will be talking with pitching coach Nate Yeskie to get these guys back on track. 

“I think some guys really struggled on the mound today, but we’ve pitched pretty well," Johnson said. "We need to get them back in tune, which we will do.”

Here is an interesting stat line: Donta Williams, who played the whole game, went 0-0 on the afternoon as he drew five walks and hit a sacrifice fly. 

“I think he’s one of the best players in college baseball right now,” Johnson said when asked about Williams' performance. 


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