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Arizona baseball team regains momentum with sweep over Washington

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Megan Ewing | The Daily Wildcat Jacob Berry scores a homerun at Hi Corbett Field on Tuesday, April 6. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 14-2.

The No. 13 Arizona baseball team made their presence felt in their three-game series against Washington on May 14-16. The Wildcats swept the series 3-0 at Hi Corbett Field and remain one game behind Oregon for first in the Pac-12, who they hold the tiebreaker over. 

Game one on Friday, May 15: Arizona-17, Washington-16 (10 innings)

Arizona’s ace pitcher Chase Silseth took the mound in the series opener against the Huskies. After retiring the side in the first inning, the Wildcats’ No. 2 ranked offense in batting average went to work. Designated hitter Jacob Berry drove a 2-0 pitch into left-center field, bringing in Donta' Williams. Right fielder Ryan Holgate followed and drove the first pitch he saw to center field that scored left fielder Mac Bingham. The Wildcats held a 2-0 lead after two innings. 

Once the game reached the third inning, it descended into a madhouse of chaos on both sides. 

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Silseth opened the third with a comfortable lead, but the remainder of his game was anything but comfortable. Silseth gave up 10 hits, seven runs (four earned) and was pulled after 4.1 innings. The Wildcats turned to pitcher Riley Cooper for some relief, but it resulted in another awful outing. Cooper only lasted 1.1 innings, giving up three hits, five runs (four earned) and two walks. By the end of the sixth inning, Washington had scored 12 unanswered runs. To Arizona’s credit, they did manage to score eight runs to keep pace with the Huskies. 

Going into the bottom of the eighth down 10-12, the Wildcats needed something special to happen if they were going to come back in dramatic fashion. Second baseman Kobe Kato was up first for the Wildcats and reached first on a 3-2 single to right field. Chase Davis came off the bench to pinch hit for third baseman Tony Bullard, and Davis managed to draw a walk. After shortstop Nik McClaughry struck out swinging, Williams came up and drew a walk to load the bases for first baseman Branden Boissiere. Boissiere grounded out but managed to plate a run to bring the Wildcats within one. With two outs and runners in scoring position, it was up to Bingham to make something happen, and he did. Bingham drove a 2-2 pitch into left field to give Arizona a 13-12 lead heading into the ninth inning. 

The Wildcats turned to their closer Vince Vannelle to close the door on Washington and secure the victory. Vannelle’s first pitch was lifted into the outfield for a single by center fielder Braiden Ward. Ward stole second base during the next at bat and eventually made it home after back-to-back sacrifice bunts, and the game was tied once again. Arizona managed to get a runner on second in the bottom of the ninth, but McClaughry struck out and the game went into extras. 

Arizona’s pitching staff decided to leave Vannelle in since they exhausted most of the bullpen throughout the game. Having already blown the save, Vannelle was rocked by Washington and gave up three runs off four at bats. Vannelle’s final line was 1.0 innings pitched giving up four hits, four runs (three earned) and zero strikeouts.

Now down three heading into the bottom of the 10th inning it was pretty much over for the Wildcats, or so everyone thought. Washington would face the top of the order featuring Williams, Boissiere and Bingham. Williams drew a walk, Boissiere struck out and Williams hit a single. After Williams managed to advance to second on a throwing error, Berry came to the plate with runners in scoring position but struck out. 

Now down to their final out, head coach Jay Johnson elected to call on Tyler Casagrande to pinch hit for Holgate. With Casagrande down in the count 0-2 the Huskies were one strike away from ending the game, but Casagrande had other plans. The next pitch was crushed into center field for a two-RBI single, keeping the Wildcats alive. Catcher Daniel Susac was up next and with the tying run on first Susac just needed the right pitch to knock him home, and he got it. Susac crushed a 1-1 pitch to right-center field that was far enough for Casagrande to make it home and tie it up for the Wildcats. Washington then elected to intentionally walk Kato to take their chances with third baseman Jacob Blas. The strategy failed as Blas drew a walk on four straight pitches, setting up McClaughry with a chance to win the game. 

McClaughry also had a chance to win the game in the ninth inning, but he struck out swinging. Down in the count 1-2, McClaughry was in the similar position of win or continue into extras. This time, McClaughry did not miss and drove a single up the middle and brought home the winning run, capping off an incredible four run inning comeback. McClaughry was mobbed by his teammates and his coaches near second base after the game. 

“I knew I was going to get hit eventually [by my teammates] so I just stood there and let them tackle me,” McClaughry said.

With the game lasting over five hours and both teams combining for 33 runs, Johnson had a tough time crediting one player for the game. 

“I am just so proud of these guys,” Johnson said. “So many of them contributed tonight. It felt like [Williams] was on base every at bat. [Boissiere] had a tough night but he played good defense. Bingham had a huge hit to put us ahead in the bottom of the eighth. Berry is a line drive machine, per usual. Holgate hitting the ball up the middle of the field with runners in scoring position. Daniel Susac, I mean it does not get any better than that. It is his birthday today, so that was a pretty good birthday.”

Susac undoubtedly had a monster night with three hits, four RBI’s, two doubles and a three-run triple in the bottom of the fourth inning. Susac wanted to be sure he did not overthink anything. 

“The main thing with my at bat was to try and not do too much,” Susac said. “You cannot go bases loaded and not score anybody so that was really big for me.”

With the Wildcats riding high during this chaotic win, Johnson had a simple message for those who feel a game such as this could not be celebrated. 

“If you cannot get behind this team then do not come to the ballpark,” Johnson said. 

RELATED: No. 13 Arizona baseball team looks to regain momentum against Washington 

Game two on Saturday, May 16: Arizona-4, Washington-1

After playing a marathon type game the previous night, Arizona was focused on fixing their mistakes from the first game. The first mistake was the bullpen, including the starter, getting beat up early in the game. Garrett Irvin got the nod for the Wildcats, and this time Arizona’s starter did not get pushed around. After giving up one run in the second inning, Irvin locked down Washington’s offense the rest of the way. Arizona broke the tie in the fourth inning when Bullard had a two-RBI single that put the Wildcats up 3-1 and they never relinquished the lead after that. Irvin did his job on the mound and pitched a complete game. It was the first time since 2019 that a Wildcat pitched an entire game and won.

“I thought [Irvin] executed and put the ball where he wanted,” Johnson said. “[Irvin] changed speeds, got a lot of early count outs and put some guys away with two strikes. Once we got the lead it felt as if the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings ended fast. We talked about removing [Irvin] after the seventh, but I just felt that Washington was not picking him up.”

With this win, Arizona won every home series against Pac-12 teams for the first time since 2017. It was also the first time it had happened under Johnson, who celebrated the team for the accomplishment rather than himself. 

“I am really proud of this team,” Johnson said. “A lot of people went to sleep when COVID-19 happened, but we did not. We worked from home, but we worked every day. One of the first things we said the day of the shutdown is our goals are not changing, we are just facing a detour. The team took that to heart and a lot of them have come back better and stronger and are reaping the rewards of that right now.”

Game three on Sunday, May 17: Arizona-11, Washington-2

Even with the series win secured, Arizona was determined to go for the sweep, especially with the Pac-12 title at stake. With defense playing a key factor in their last victory, the Wildcats’ offense came alive once again. 

Before that, Washington’s pitcher Stefan Raeth retired the entire Arizona lineup in the first three innings. Johnson did not like what he was seeing from his hitters and huddled everyone together after going hitless in three straight innings. 

“We had a hitter’s meeting to start the fourth inning,” Johnson said. “It was more of a mindset of demanding more out of yourself and your at bats. I thought we looked a little tired. Playing at 11 a.m. after a 6 p.m. game and at this point in the season coming off finals is something we understand, but we cannot accept it.”

That meeting was all the Wildcats needed to wake up. After Williams drew a walk to lead off the fourth inning, Boissiere sent an 0-1 pitch over the center field wall for a two-run home run. Two batters later, Holgate smashed a 1-2 pitch over the right field wall that gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. While the game may have had a quick turnaround, Boissiere made sure to get in some extra practice before the 11 a.m. start. 

“I got here at 8:30 a.m.,” Boissiere said. “I did some work in the cages hitting, trying to fix my swing and … I have been feeling good putting in more time and work. A lot of the other guys are doing the same thing.” 

Arizona went on to score eight more runs, including home runs from Berry and Bullard. The victory was also special for pitcher Gil Luna, who earned his first win since 2019 and received his college degree. 

“It was very hectic and stressful with graduation coming up, but I was able to stay on track,” Luna said. “My parents helped my out with graduation and it felt amazing. I knew we had a big series coming up and it came down to preparing and focusing off graduation just a little bit.”

Luna threw four innings with no runs, two hits and three strikeouts. Looking back at the whole series, Luna praised his team for their resilience.

“The biggest thing with this series was that we were never out of it,” Luna said. “We still have some pieces to work on, but we are getting there. Once this team plays together and comes as one unit it is very special. It feels as if we are unbeatable.”

Though the season is not over year, Johnson said he feels that after this series win his team is ready for the playoffs.  

“I am excited,” Johnson said. “To get to that point you have to earn your way there, but I feel confident in our character and our brand of baseball.”

Arizona will face off against New Mexico State at Hi Corbett Field on Tuesday, May 18 at 6 p.m. MST. 


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Updated September 18, 2021