On the back of a dominant pitching performance from starter Garrett Irvin and a phenomenal outing from the entire defense, the Arizona baseball team defeated UC Santa Barbara 4-0 under the lights of Hi Corbett Field Saturday night, June 5 to advance to the Tucson Regional final.
Arizona acted as the “road team” in this game, getting off to an early 1-0 lead in the top half of the first inning with a single by Daniel Susac that scored Donta' Williams who reached first base with an infield hit to open the game. Branden Boissiere added another run in the third inning with a single that scored Nik McClaughry, which ended up being all Irvin needed on the mound tonight to secure the victory for the Wildcats.
"In terms of approach [and] in terms of competitive at-bats, I would say we did a very good job," Arizona manager Jay Johnson said. "That is throughout the order. I think we left a few things on the table where you got to credit [Michael] McGreevy for making some pitches. We made a couple of mistakes in terms of the at-bats we haven't made all year and sometimes good pitching does that to you. That is when the team element of baseball and that complimentary aspect aspect of baseball comes into play where [Irvin] picked us up on the mound, Tony [Bullard] picked us up with a big at-bat late and we did just enough."
Coming off a rough end to the regular season where he lasted just 2.2 innings against Dixie State, Irvin looked as sharp as he’s looked all season against the Gauchos. After facing the minimum through the first four innings where he allowed just one hit with four strikeouts, UC Santa Barbara put their first runner in scoring position with back-to-back one out singles in the fifth inning. Irvin was then able to pick up his fifth strikeout of the night for the second out of the inning, which was followed by a tremendous catch at the wall in the left field foul territory by Tanner O’Tremba to help Irvin escape the jam.
It was not just this catch by O'Tremba, but really the whole night that the Wildcats defense behind Irvin was seemingly making tremendous plays in the field almost every inning. Irvin alluded to the fact that when the defense is playing this well behind him, it gives him that much more confidence to stay aggressive on the mound.
"When the defense is playing that well behind you, it just fuels your fire at that point because you know you can be as aggressive as you want," Irvin said. "If you make a mistake, your defense is going to pick you up, so I think the defense definitely showed that and that they had my back tonight. I wouldn't have been able to get into the ninth [inning] without the defense tonight, so it was a lot of fun and it just makes me want to do better when I see them making diving plays and catching all of these balls for me."
The Wildcats lineup put runners on base all night with 11 hits, one walk and three hit by pitches drawn, but were unable to come up with too many hits with runners in scoring position. They were 2-for-12 as a team in that category.
Bullard was able to give Irvin some breathing room with a two-run bomb in the eighth inning after Kobe Kato led off the frame with a single. Bullard is 12-for-21 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in his last five games dating back to the Dixie State series to close the regular season.
Bullard credited a change in his batting stance to his recent power surge.
"I feel like I'm just using my legs more," Bullard said. "I feel like my stance now, it's a lot lower than it previously was, so just being able to use my hips and my legs in my swing, I feel like that's helped a lot."
This is the same Gauchos offense that scored 14 runs on Oklahoma State Friday afternoon. One day later, Irvin ran through this lineup to the tune of a complete game shutout where he allowed just three hits with nine strikeouts and zero walks. Irvin faced just four three-ball counts all night.
The Wildcats will face the winner of a rematch between Oklahoma State and UCSB in the regional final Sunday night. That winner will have to defeat the Wildcats twice in order to advance to the Super Regionals next weekend.
Follow Ari Koslow on Twitter