The Arizona baseball team opened up their first Pac-12 home series against the Oregon Ducks at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona, which began Friday, March 26, and concluded on Sunday, March 28. The Wildcats would go on to take two out of three games from the Ducks and win the series.
Game 1: Arizona-5, Oregon-4
Ace pitcher Chase Silseth got the call for the Wildcats under the Friday night lights. He didn’t disappoint by any means as he did his best Jacob DeGrom impression by allowing just three hits and putting up 11 strikeouts across 6.2 innings pitched.
Silseth did a commendable job keeping Oregon hitters off balance all night with a mix of his fastball and off-speed pitches. It marks another quality start for Silseth as he continues to make his case as one of the top pitchers in the Pac-12. His performance was certainly worthy of a web gem highlight on SportsCenter.
After going hitless in the first two innings, the Wildcats bats started to come alive as Nik McClaughry started the bottom of the third with a leadoff single. He was immediately driven home thanks to a stand up double by Donta' Williams. Jacob Berry followed with a single that drove in Williams to extend their lead to 2-0.
A slim 2-0 lead would be cut in half in the top of the fifth inning after second baseman Kobe Kato committed a fielding error that allowed the runner from third to score. Oregon was now only down 2-1 to the Wildcats, however, Arizona’s Silseth would strikeout one of the Ducks’ top hitters in Kenyon Yovan to end the inning and prevent any further damage. The Wildcats would make up for the run they lost in the bottom half of the frame as Kobe Kato would score from third thanks to a fielder's choice.
Silseth would get pulled from the game with 2 outs in the seventh inning with runners on first and second. He was replaced by relief pitcher Riley Cooper who would only face one batter after the ensuing play resulted in bases being loaded after Kato’s second fielding error of the night. In a critical spot with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the seventh, Arizona baseball head coach Jay Johnson made the decisive move to go with his lights out closer in Preston Price. Price would deliver by striking out the ensuing batter to get his team out of a huge jam and preserve the Wildcats slim 3-1 lead heading into the eighth.
Arizona would pad their lead and give Price a nice scoring cushion when they tacked on two more runs in the bottom frame of the eighth. Daniel Susac lined a single right down the third base line to plate Ryan Holgate as the Wildcats stretched their lead to 4-1. Arizona would add another and their final run of the game thanks to a fielding error by Oregon shortstop Josh Kasevich that made it 5-1 in favor of the Wildcats.
Just when it looked like the Wildcats were going to pull away, Oregon would not go quietly into the night. In the top of the ninth inning with one out, Price would get pulled and replaced by Vince Vannelle for a save situation. The first pitch by Vannelle was taken deep to right center field for a three-run home run by pinch-hitter Anthony Hall. Despite giving up a three-run shot, Vannelle remained cool and composed as he would go on to strike out the next two batters to seal the 5-4 win over the Ducks.
Game 2: Arizona-15, Oregon-2
This game had a completely different feel to it then in game one. Arizona must have thought that they were playing in Frisco, Texas, because they would go on an offensive onslaught that mirrored the team from the Frisco College Baseball Classic just three and half weeks prior. They would go on a hit parade that saw them score 15 runs on 16 hits.
Arizona would deliver its best performance of the season thus far considering that they put up 15 on one of the top teams in the Pac-12. What made their performance more significant is that they did it against one of the hottest pitchers in the Pac-12 entering Saturday’s game in Cullen Kafka.
Oregon struck first with a home run that was launched by Yovan to deep left center field to put the Ducks up 1-0 in the first inning. Arizona answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the second. The third inning was the turning point in the game in which Arizona would never look back. Ryan Holgate delivered a big little league homer that cleared the bases for the Wildcats after Oregon’s left fielder misjudged the line drive resulting in the ball bouncing off the top of his glove and rolling all the way to the outfield wall. Wildcats would extend their lead to 5-1.
Arizona’s scoring output would not stop in the third inning as they would blow the game wide open after Branden Boissiere hit a bases loaded line drive into right field that would score two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. His two-run single would seal the Ducks’ hopes in ever coming back in this game as Arizona stretched their lead to 9-1. Daniel Susac would get in on the fun as he lined an opposite-field hit to left field for a two-run single that extended the Wildcats lead to 11-1 after six innings of play.
Arizona would go on to score four more runs as their offensive dominance was complimented well by starting pitcher Garrett Irvin. Irvin registered a very good pitching display in which he showed excellent command of the strike zone, had good control of his pitches and did a solid job putting hitters away early in counts. His only blemish of the game was a solo homer that he committed to Oregon’s Yovan back in the first inning. Despite this, Irvin was able to settle in and even retired 11 straight batters during one stretch. He finished the start allowing earned run on six hits across seven innings pitched.
This game was all Arizona thanks to hitting over .500 in scoring position and being patient at the plate that saw them go through the order a whopping six times. The Wildcats clinched the series with a win, making a statement suggesting that they can play with anyone and making a case as one of the top tier teams in the Pac-12.
Game 3: Arizona-13, Oregon-18
Coming into this game, Oregon decided that they would bring their own offensive fire power and make up for their tough loss the previous game. The Ducks had no plans to get swept and decided to take out their frustrations starting with Arizona's starting pitcher, TJ Nichols, who went on to allow five earned runs on five hits in just 3.1 innings pitched.
Arizona’s ultimate downfall in this game came via the pitching performance by its bullpen. It was bullpen by committee for the Wildcats as Johnson used a total of six relief pitchers. However, the bullpen would be responsible for 13 earned runs on 16 hits combined.
After facing a large deficit of 16-6 heading into the seventh inning, the Wildcats deserve a lot of credit as they wouldn’t go down without a fight. They battled back to score a combined nine runs in the sixth through ninth inning, cutting the deficit to 18-13. A great sign as it shows the team’s character, resiliency and how they handle adversity. Despite trimming the lead down to five, the Wildcats comeback efforts simply wouldn’t be enough as Boissiere would lineout to the second baseman for a game ending double play.
Sweeping an elite team in the Pac-12 at home would have been an impressive feat for Arizona. However, taking two out of three and winning the series against the sixteenth ranked team in the nation is a grand achievement in of itself. This marks the Wildcats' first Pac-12 series win of the season as they made a huge statement in the process by letting everyone in the conference aware that they’re a team to be reckoned with and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Arizona will look to build on its momentum after its series win over Oregon as they travel up Interstate 10 to take on heated in-state rival Arizona State for a four-game series starting Thursday, April 1.
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