The packed crowd at Hi Corbett Field witnessed a star-studded performance as the No. 5 Arizona baseball team dominated No. 12 Ole Miss 9-3 on Friday, June 11 in game one of the Tucson Super Regional.
Arizona turned to ace pitcher Chase Silseth to start strong in the series opener against Ole Miss. Silseth struggled in his first postseason outing against GCU, pitching only 3.0 innings, and allowing four runs. Arizona was hoping for a turn around performance, but Silseth’s struggles continued.
With the first pitch of the game, Silseth surrendered a double to shortstop Jacob Gonzalez to immediately put a runner in scoring position. Head coach Jay Johnson let his guys know that this is what the Super Regionals are all about.
“Gonzalez came out ready to hit, smoked a double and it was on,” Johnson said. “If our guys did not know it was going to be a battle, they learned pretty quickly.”
Silseth managed to get the next two batters out, setting up a matchup with designated hitter Tim Elko. Elko has been playing on a torn ACL and is not back at full strength. That is why it was odd that Arizona elected to intentionally walk Elko to face third baseman Justin Bench.
“Elko is on fire right now,” Johnson said. “[Elko] is almost Babe Ruth-like in terms of impact that he has had on games. Coming in he wasn’t going to beat us, and we had an open base and we made a decision to walk him. It obviously did not work.”
Bench made the Wildcats pay and smacked a 1-0 pitch into right field for a double to give the Rebels an early lead.
Silseth would then face center fielder TJ McCants with runners in scoring position. Silseth was ahead in the count 1-2, but he left a changeup too high over the plate and McCants crushed it to center field to bring home two more runs to extend the lead to 3-0. Silseth was bailed out of the inning when catcher Daniel Susac caught McCants trying to steal second.
Already at an early deficit, the offense needed to get going early so the game would not get out of reach. Center fielder Donta’ Williams got it going after a leadoff double off the wall in center field, making it 45 straight games Williams has reached base safely. After the at-bat, the umpires gathered to discuss whether the ball cleared the home run line. After further review, it was determined the ball did clear the wall and Williams’ home run put the Wildcats on the board to bring the Ole Miss lead down to 3-1.
The scoring continued the bottom of the second inning for the Wildcats when third baseman Tony Bullard stepped up. Down in the count 1-2, Bullard stayed calm and crushed the next pitch he saw over the left field wall, with no review required this time as it was a no doubter. At the end of the inning, Arizona was only down 3-2.
After both teams went down quietly in the third, Ole Miss threatened again against Silseth in the top of the fourth. McCants reached base again with a single to center field. Silseth managed to strikeout the next two batters but put right fielder Hayden Leatherwood on base with a four-pitch walk. With runners on and two outs, Gonzalez stepped up hoping to replicate his first inning success against Silseth. This time it was Silseth who won the duel and got Gonzalez to ground out to end the inning.
Second baseman Kobe Kato led the fourth inning off by striking out, bringing up Bullard who homered in his last at-bat. Bullard was feeling it once again, crushing a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall for his second home run of the game, tying the game 3-3. Bullard is not known as a home run hitter and credits the hitting coaches for his newfound success.
“I get a little lower in my stance so I can use my legs some more,” Bullard said. “I am just swinging at strikes and not balls.”
Silseth came back out for the top of the fifth inning and once again pushed Arizona to the brink of losing the lead yet again. Silseth gave up a single and walk to put two runners on with no outs, facing Elko again in a dangerous situation. After getting ahead in the count 1-2, Silseth threw a high splitter and got Elko to go strikeout on an awkward swing. After getting the next batter to fly out, Silseth was pulled for lefty reliever Riley Cooper to face the left-handed hitter McCants. Silseth finished with a line of 4.2 innings pitched with six strikeouts and three runs allowed.
Normally in this situation Arizona would send out either lefty relievers Randy Abshier or Gil Luna, but both pitchers were suspended for the Ole Miss series after an off-campus incident involving other UA students. Nevertheless, Cooper did his job and got McCants to ground out to end the inning and give Silseth a no decision.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Williams battled pitcher Derek Diamond with a 10 pitch at-bat. Williams won the battle with a leadoff single to left field and knocked Diamond out of the game. Ole Miss went to the bullpen and called upon Tyler Myers to face designated hitter Jacob Berry. Berry has not had an impressive postseason, hitting just 2-16 at the plate. Berry finally broke out of his slump, crushing the fourth Arizona home run to give the Wildcats a 5-3 lead, their first of the game.
After Cooper’s 1-2-3 sixth inning, the Wildcats were back at their scoring ways with a familiar face leading the charge. Bullard, who already had two home runs in the game, lead the inning off looking for his third home run. Bullard lifted a 2-2 pitch deep to right field, but it just bounced off the top of the wall. Bullard hustled all around the bases for a leadoff triple, which was reviewed and confirmed by the umpires. Even after coming so close to having a game with three home runs, Bullard only wanted to win.
“I am just trying to swing at good pitches,” Bullard said.
Right fielder Ryan Holgate grounded out to first in the next at-bat, bringing home Bullard to extend the Wildcats lead to 6-3.
Cooper took care of business through innings six and seven to finish his night with 2.1 no-hit innings pitched with no runs allowed. After reliever Dawson Netz had a 1-2-3 inning, the Wildcats came out for the bottom of the eighth looking to pad their lead. They got that and then some when Williams stepped up with the bases loaded with two outs and brought home three runs on a double down the left field line to expand the lead 9-3. After that, closer Vince Vannelle came out and put Ole Miss down 1-2-3 to secure game one of the Tucson Super Regional.
“I liked the sustained pressure,” Johnson said. “I thought we took real quality at-bats and really did not let up. We are on to tomorrow.”
Arizona will look to close out Ole Miss in game two of the Tucson Super Regional at Hi Corbett Field on Saturday, June 12 at 7 p.m. MST.
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