After a huge road series win over Oregon State that clinched the Arizona baseball team at least a share of the Pac-12 championship, the Wildcats returned home to take on Dixie State in a three-game series to close the regular season. Here is how Arizona fared in the season finale series.
Game one: Arizona – 4, Dixie State – 2:
Head coach Jay Johnson wanted to keep Chase Silseth and Garrett Irvin on their usual rest of pitching on Friday and Saturday, so because this series started on Thursday, he elected to have Chandler Murphy on the mound for the series opener.
Murphy took the no-decision, but was dominant in the start as he allowed two runs (both unearned) on three hits over five innings with three strikeouts and two walks. Dixie State scored both runs in the second inning after Murphy committed a throwing error himself, which is why both runs were unearned.
Both teams struggled to get much going at the plate all night as Arizona collected just five hits as a team. However, they were able to take advantage of four errors committed to Dixie State.
Tony Bullard got the Wildcats on the board with an RBI single that scored Kobe Kato in the second inning. Kato later drove in Donta' Williams, who reached earlier in the inning on a throwing error, to tie the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning. Arizona added on two more runs later on singles by Williams and Branden Boissiere, who went 2-for-5 at the plate with a lot of hard contact.
After Murphy’s five innings of two-run ball, Randy Abshier and Gil Luna combined to pitch the final four innings. Abshier earned the win, allowing just one hit over 2.2 innings with two strikeouts and two walks. Luna earned the save, tossing 1.1 perfect innings with three strikeouts.
Game two: Arizona – 9, Dixie State – 11:
Big nights at the plate for Boissiere and Bullard were overshadowed by a poor pitching performance in game two under the lights of Hi Corbett Field.
Silseth got the start for Arizona. After two shutout innings to begin the night where the bats got him an early 2-0 lead with an RBI single by Boissiere and solo home run by Bullard, Dixie State got to Silseth for three runs in the third and fourth inning. The final line for Silseth was allowing six runs (four earned) on five hits over 3.2 innings with seven strikeouts and three walks.
Despite falling behind 3-2 early, the bats found their groove in the bottom half of the third inning, plating five runs that was capped off by a grand slam hit by Bullard.
Dixie State went on to plate three runs on Silseth the next half inning to cut their deficit to 7-6 before scoring another three runs off Ian Churchill and Quinn Flanagan in the sixth inning to take a 9-7 lead.
Dixie State plated another two runs in the eighth inning as Arizona struggled to get anything going off the bullpen of Dixie State. The Wildcats scored just two runs the rest of the game after the five-run third inning.
Preston Price made his first appearance out of the bullpen since April 9, tossing a quick 1-2-3 inning.
Game three: Arizona – 5, Dixie State – 4:
The Wildcats ended the regular season in style on a walk-off double hit by Jacob Berry, followed by a celebration on the field as the Pac-12 champions.
"I think it's awesome for the players," Johnson said. "Again, there's a lot of names up on this wall, pro players, All-Americans in my office and a lot of big leaguers and superstars that never did what this group did, and that's very meaningful. So to be able to celebrate that accomplishment, I'm really happy for the players. I think they deserve it, and then now we will move onto the NCAA Tournament."
Irvin struggled in his start, lasting just 2.2 innings where he allowed four runs on six hits with three strikeouts. However, T.J. Nichols and Vince Vannelle dominated out of the bullpen to shut out Dixie State the rest of the game.
"I'm actually happy we took [Irvin] out of the game," Johnson said. "The pitch count was the lowest it's been for a while, and so it can almost serve as a little bit of a breather. We didn't win, not because of him, but he went 107, I believe somewhere around, at Oregon State. The weekend before that was Washington. He threw a complete game. The week before that was Stanford. He went seven innings at Stanford. I think he threw a really good game against Utah. I know he pitched into the sixth or seventh [inning.] I know he threw around 100 pitches against USC, and the the most important weekend of the year for us was the series at Washington State and [Irvin] pitched that day after we had that bad game and he was great then, so when you stack like seven weeks up like that, I am actually happy that it turned out the way that it did. I'm happy we won, and I'm happy his pitch count was under control today."
Nichols allowed just one hit with six strikeouts and zero walks over 4.2 shutout innings, while Vannelle closed the door, tossing 1.2 perfect innings with three strikeouts.
Arizona fell behind 4-1 early, but they were able to chip their way back into the game with two runs in the fifth inning and one run in the sixth inning to tie the game before Berry walked off Dixie State in the bottom of the ninth inning with a double that scored Williams.
Boissiere had himself a huge series going 9-for-13 at the plate with four RBIs.
"[Boissiere] is one of our best, if not our best hitter," Berry said. "He's by far one of the leaders on the team and for him, this weekend was a reminder that he's a great player and going into postseason, that's a great thing to have."
The Wildcats now wait for the regionals to be announced on Monday, May 31. Johnson said he believes there is no question that Arizona has done more than enough to earn a top-8 overall seed for the potential to host both Regional and Super Regional play at Hi Corbett Field.
"There is no question about it," Johnson said. "It's not even a debate in my opinion, so yes I do believe that. 40 wins, I mean this program has been to Omaha more times than it has won 40 games in the regular season. Outright Pac-12 champions, we only had one loss on the entire season which was [Saturday] to a team that was under 100 in the RPI. Book it."
The bracket and pairings for Regional play will be released at 9:00 a.m. MST on Monday, May 31, on ESPN2.
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