After splitting the opening series of the season against Ball State, the Arizona baseball team swept Southeastern Louisiana to take some momentum heading into the Frisco College Baseball Classic. Here is how the Wildcats fared in the four games they played in Texas from this weekend.
March 4: Arizona 20, Oklahoma 13
It started out with a slug fest that saw Arizona score 20 runs, which was tied for the most runs they have scored since plating 28 runs against Oregon back on May 5, 2019.
It was the first rough start of the season for sophomore transfer Chase Silseth, going 4.1 innings while allowing 10 runs on 11 hits with three strikeouts and three walks. The Sooners got to him with six runs in the third inning. It was at this point Arizona fell behind 9-3 after three innings, and that is where the Wildcats began the rally.
From the fourth inning through the seventh inning, Arizona scored a combined 16 runs to blow the game open. This included the Wildcats matching the Sooners' six-run third inning with a six-run inning of their own in the seventh inning.
Every starter logged at least one hit for Arizona, with seven starters recording at least two hits. Junior right fielder Blake Paugh was the star of the night for the Wildcats, going 4-for-6 with three RBI’s.
Senior Vince Vannelle got the win for Arizona, coming in for two innings of relief after Silseth was taken out, where he allowed one run on two hits.
March 5: Arizona 12, Oklahoma 1
The pitching took a complete turn for the better in this game led by starter Chandler Murphy, who got his second win of the season going five innings, allowing one run on eight hits with three strikeouts and one walk.
The Wildcats lineup started where they left off the day before, scoring five runs in the first two innings, which included a first inning home run by Jacob Blas and a two-run double by Ryan Holgate in the second inning.
After five shutout innings, Murphy got into a little trouble for allowing one run before he departed with the bases loaded and no one out. That is when senior Preston Price entered the game and took care of business, striking out three straight hitters while showcasing his nasty slider to end the inning and getting Arizona out of the jam. Price pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, throwing two perfect innings with five strikeouts on the afternoon.
After Price got Arizona out of the jam in the top half of the inning, the bats carried that momentum into the bottom half of the inning, leading to a five-run sixth inning to completely blow the game open.
The bullpen combined to throw four perfect innings with eight strikeouts, which included perfect innings from freshman Riley Cooper and junior transfer Austin Smith.
March 6: Arizona 15, Dallas Baptist 8
This was one of the more up-and-down games for the Wildcats.
After Garrett Irvin kept the Patriots off the board in the top half of the first inning, Donta Williams led off the bottom half of the inning by reaching first on a hit by pitch before the next three hitters all drew walks to take an early 1-0 lead for Arizona. The Wildcats plated three more runs in the first inning before adding on another run in the second inning to take a 5-1 lead after two innings.
Irvin wound up going three innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits with five strikeouts and three walks.
The Patriots began chipping their way back into the game on the Wildcats bullpen, scoring one run in the fourth inning, three runs in the fifth inning and two runs in the sixth inning to take a 7-5 lead at the time.
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That lead for Dallas Baptist did not last long, however, as Arizona answered the two runs scored by the Patriots in the top of the sixth inning with seven runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead back. Holgate got the rally going with a one out double before the Wildcats logged six singles in the inning with RBI’s coming from Branden Boissiere, Jacob Berry, Daniel Susac, Mac Bingham and Blas. Arizona batted around the lineup, bringing 12 hitters to the plate.
Two innings later, Arizona scored three more runs on a bases clearing double by Holgate.
Vannelle earned the win throwing one inning, allowing one run on one hit with two strikeouts and one walk before head coach Jay Johnson decided to throw Quinn Flanagan out for the final few innings. The sophomore earned the save for the Wildcats, throwing three shutout innings, allowing just one hit with eight strikeouts and two walks. That's right, all but one of the outs Flanagan recorded were strikeouts!
March 7: Arizona 8, Missouri 4
The Wildcats took the lead early with back-to-back home runs by Boissiere and Berry in the second inning to give Arizona a 3-0 lead, but Missouri countered with three runs of their own off starter T.J. Nichols.
After that inning, both pitchers held the offenses shutout the next three innings before the Wildcats scored one run in the sixth inning and four runs in the seventh inning to take an 8-3 lead.
Nichols went 5.2 innings, allowing three runs on five hits with six strikeouts and one walk.
In the four-run seventh inning by the Wildcats, Berry drew a walk with the bases loaded to score a run before Kobe Kato hit a sacrifice fly for the second run and out of the inning. That is when Susac walked up to the plate and came up with a huge single with two outs to score Boissiere and Berry, giving Arizona a little more breathing room.
Cooper, Smith and Price entered the game out of the bullpen for the Wildcats in relief of Nichols, combining to throw 3.1 innings, allowing just one run to close the game out for Arizona.
“It was a great weekend for our team,” Johnson said. “I was very proud of the players. I thought they were extremely well prepared. We had a great practice out here on Wednesday. It was really in all three phases we played particularly well.”
The Wildcats have combined for just two errors over the last five games after recording seven errors in the previous two games combined. Johnson alluded to how much keeping every player at one position has helped the progression of this defense in comparison to moving so many players around to different positions.
“I think we’ve just put time into it,” Johnson said. “Allowing them to specialize a little bit at one thing. With [Boissiere] at first base, who is an elite defensive first baseman right now. I mean you could talk about the hitting all day long. With [Kato], he’s been a utility player where we’ve thrown him all over the field and basically been a team guy, but just saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to second base and you’re staying there. We’re going to get really good at this.’”
Johnson alluded to a few other players who are sticking to one position this year, including Blas at shortstop. He also mentioned Susac behind the plate, who has impressed him as a freshman handling all the duties at catcher.
“I think [Susac] also has been impressive,” Johnson said. “I found myself wanting to get on him for not framing a pitch in like the eighth inning and it’s like I haven’t even thought about him back there in like five or six games, and that’s usually a good sign of a good catcher.”
It was an overall up-and-down weekend for the bullpen, but Price has stood out most out of the relievers. His performance on Friday against the Sooners stood out the most when he mowed down three straight Oklahoma hitters after inheriting a bases loaded jam with no outs.
“So proud of [Price],” Johnson said. “Poise is the word that comes to mind for me. I mean I don’t know if he was even on the travel squad just in 2019 to be honest with you. [Price] has become a weapon.”
After sweeping the Frisco Classic and coming off their ninth straight win, the Wildcats will be back at Hi Corbett Field for a four-game series against Wichita State starting on Thursday, March 11.
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