The Arizona baseball team were on the road for a pivotal three-game series against Stanford with first place in the Pac-12 on the line. The series began on Friday, May 7 and concluded on Sunday, May 9. Both the Wildcats’ 10 game-winning streak and sixth consecutive Pac-12 series winning streak came to an end after losing two out of three games over the weekend.
Game One: Arizona-4, Stanford-5
Game one more than lived up to the hype coming into this pivotal series. A great game that felt like a playoff contest that took place in Omaha, Nebraska. This shouldn’t come to a surprise considering that this series pivots two of the top teams in the Pac-12 conference.
It was a classic pitchers' duel that featured arguably the two best pitchers in the Pac-12 in Arizona’s Chase Silseth and Stanford’s Brendan Beck. Silseth came into Friday night with a 7-1 record overall and a 4.80 earned run average. Beck came in sporting a 5-0 record overall and a 3.69 earned run average.
Arizona wasted no time getting on the scoreboard thanks to an RBI single by Daniel Susac in the top of the first inning. Despite leading 1-0 early on, the Wildcats failed to take advantage of a big inning after having the bases loaded twice. Beck would settle in nicely and get Stanford out of a huge jam after inducing a groundout to Kobe Kato to end the inning. The inability to hit with runners in scoring position was a narrative that would eventually doom the Wildcats in this game. They finished hitting 4-14 for the night in that category.
Silseth was his dominant self early on as he retired the side in three consecutive innings from the first to the third. He didn’t allow his first hit until the fourth inning. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Silseth would give up a bases loaded walk to tie the game at one apiece. To his credit, he was able to stay poised as he worked out of a huge jam by striking out two straight batters to end the threat and keep the game tied. Silseth would finish the night at 5.1 innings pitched, logging four strikeouts on six hits and giving up three runs.
Arizona couldn’t convert on yet another scoring opportunity when they left runners on second and first with only one out in the top of the sixth inning. After getting to Beck in the first inning, the Wildcats’ bats went completely silent as they couldn’t muster any kind of offense for the next five innings. Stanford’s ace pitcher would end his night at 6.1 innings pitched on seven hits, allowing four runs and logging eight strikeouts.
Arizona’s Dawson Netz would come in relief to replace Silseth in the bottom of the sixth inning after surrendering an RBI double to left center field to give Stanford the 2-1 lead. The Cardinal quickly added an insurance run after a wild pitch by Netz allowed the runner on third to score. Right when it looked like Arizona’s comeback hopes were dashed, they were given a prayer when beck was taken out of the game with one out in the top of the seventh. The Wildcats took full advantage by putting up a 3-spot in the inning and taking a 4-3 lead.
Arizona’s offensive resurgence in the seventh started when Mac Bingham slashed a single to right field which cut Stanford’s lead in half. Branden Boissiere would follow by coming home to score thanks to a throwing error by right fielder Christian Robinson, tying the game at three. Berry followed suit by coming through in the clutch with an RBI single to left center field which gave Arizona the 4-3 advantage.
Stanford went on to tie the game at four in the bottom of the eighth after an error committed by Boissiere allowed a run to score. The game went on to extra innings and ended in the bottom of the thirteenth after Arizona relief pitcher Quinn Flanagan gave up a walk-off single to Brock Jones to win the game 5-4 for the Cardinal. Despite being credited with the loss, Flanagan still put up a master class performance in which he struck out seven of the first eleven batters he faced in extras. Nonetheless, it was a gut-wrenching loss for Arizona as it snapped their 10-game winning streak in the process.
“You kind of knew which team cracked with a couple free bases that they were going to put themselves at a disadvantage,” head coach Jay Johnson said. “We left a runner on third [base], I believe in the top of the thirteenth. I felt if we could have got it to the fourteenth [inning] it was going to flip to our advantage again because we were coming back to the top of the order. We had three chances with runners in scoring position. In extra innings we couldn’t quite roll one through the infield, get a passed ball or something of that nature.”
Game Two: Arizona-20, Stanford-2
After a heartbreaking loss that came in walk-off fashion in game one, to say that Arizona was out for vengeance in game two would be a huge understatement. The Wildcats decided to reintroduce themselves to Stanford on Saturday afternoon and show them who they really are.
This was the Arizona team that we all know. A team with an identity that is built on getting out to big leads and going for the knockout early in games. The Wildcats at their best are the personification of Mike Tyson, once they jump out to a double-digit lead in the first three innings, the opposing team might as well throw in the towel.
The number one offense in the Pac-12 was on full display in this game as they put up a 20 runs on 15 hits to go along with three home runs. Ryan Holgate and Daniel Susac would hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the second inning in which Arizona raced out to an 8-0 lead and never looked back. Susac’s home run marked his twelfth for the year and tied the record for most home runs by an Arizona freshman in a single season.
The Wildcats scored at least one run in seven innings and three runs or more in five innings. Everyone in the starting lineup not named Donta' Williams had at least one hit and an RBI. To Williams’ credit, he did draw four walks including a hit-by-pitch and reached base five times. Speaking of walks, Arizona drew a mind boggling 15 of them in this game. Six of them coming in the eighth inning alone.
Kobe Kato went on to extend his hitting streak to 12 games after lining a two-run double to right field in the third inning. Susac played an instrumental role in Arizona’s offensive onslaught as he finished 4-5 with a home run and five runs-batted-in. Sophomore Nic McClaughry delivered his best game of the season. Finishing 3-5 with his first collegiate career home run, a triple and three runs-batted-in. Holgate also experienced a strong afternoon as went 2-4 with a three-run homer and an RBI double to help his cause.
It’s very easy to get lost in the big offensive numbers that the Wildcats put up in this game and overlook Garret Irvin’s terrific outing. Irvin registered a quality start and a web gem worthy performance. He retired 11 straight batters during one stretch and even retired the side during his last inning pitched. The left hander finished the day at 7.0 innings pitched, allowing only two earned runs on five hits and logging five strikeouts.
This game was all Arizona from the word go. They got out to a commanding 8-0 lead in the second inning and kept their foot on the gas pedal. They provided a lot of timely hitting in which 11 of their 15 hits came with two outs and runners on base. This was the difference of the game as Stanford only hit 1-15 with runners on base. The complete opposite from the first game.
“It’s very important to get a tough loss off of them as quickly as you can,” head coach Jay Johnson said. “The next day, my message to them in the morning was all about focus. I know that sounds really boring but we’ve won a lot of high-level games this year and really focusing on the things that allow us to do that. I thought we took really good at-bats and that’s how it goes sometimes. You get on a team like that and we’re up 9-0. I think we scored four or five runs with two outs in the second [inning]. That obviously changes what kind of pitchers they’re going to use, and we were able to take advantage of that.”
After a very tough loss in extra innings in the first game and a complete offensive beat down in the second, what could possibly be in store for the Wildcats in game three?
Game Three: Arizona-2, Stanford-8
After going berserk and putting up 20 runs in game two, Arizona’s high-flying offense came back down to earth in the rubber game of this series as they collected eight hits with only two runs to show for it. Game three mirrored game one in many respects because the Wildcats couldn’t come through in many key situations. They hit 1-7 with runners in scoring position and 3-13 with runners on base overall.
Stanford’s starting pitcher Alex Williams didn’t make life easy for Arizona by any means in this game. He averaged, at the least, 10-12 seconds for every pitch thrown. Alex Williams’ quick pitching style might have served as a significant factor to the Wildcats’ timing at the plate. He also kept them off balance with a balanced mix of off-speed pitches and a steady dose of fastballs. Williams turned in a quality start that saw him finish at six innings pitched, allowing only three hits, a walk and six strikeouts.
Arizona pitcher Austin Smith got the start on Sunday as he did in last Sunday’s game as well. Smith did his part as he finished the day at 3.1 innings pitched, giving up three hits, two walks and allowing only one earned run. Despite Arizona’s bullpen tallying stellar performances throughout this recent stretch, game three wasn’t one of their better outings. The bullpen combined to go 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, seven runs, five earned runs and only two strikeouts.
There were a few key moments that greatly affected the outcome of this game. Arizona’s T.J. Nichols went on to give up a big two-run homer in the fifth inning that swung the momentum heavily in Stanford’s favor as they went up 3-0.
After catching a line drive for an out, shortstop Nik McClaughry made a crucial throwing error after attempting to get a double play at third base. Allowing for the runner on third to score and stretch Stanford’s lead to 5-0 in the sixth inning. Donta' Williams cut Stanford’s lead to 5-2 after an RBI single, however he would get thrown out to end the top of the seventh after trying to stretch his hit into a double. If Donta' Williams would have made it to second safely, it would have brought the tying run to the plate with runners on second and third.
Despite losing two out of three to Stanford and sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 conference, Johnson said he understands that a lot of positives can be taken away from a series of this magnitude.
“It’s amazing the margin between winning and losing,” Johnson said. “I think our players understand the importance of each pitch, inning, competition between the pitcher and hitter [and] each defensive play. Saturday, I think their response to a lough loss was good. Hopefully we see them again. I think that would be a good thing for us. We’re not really afraid to play anybody. If the [New York] Yankees want to take that fifty-six game, we’ll take it, line up and see what we can do. We would have liked to have got it done obviously. That margin on Friday was small and flipped in their favor. We won a game and they won a game so just got to keep on our tune.”
Arizona will look to start a new winning streak as they come back to Hi Corbett Field and host Washington for a three-game series starting on Friday, May 14 and concluding on Sunday, May 16.
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