In a back-and-forth game between the Arizona baseball team and Vanderbilt that went deep into the night of Omaha Saturday night, June 19, the Wildcats fell 7-6 in a heartbreaker in 12 innings in a brutal opening loss for the team.
The Cats knew they had a tough task ahead of them against Kumar Rocker who had yet to allow a run in his first two postseason starts. That changed quick as Arizona got to him immediately in the first inning.
After falling behind 0-2 in the count to open up the game, Donta’ Williams fouled a couple of pitches off and battled back before reaching on an error. One double by Jacob Berry and a single by Branden Boissiere later and the Wildcats were up 2-0 right away. After a single by Kobe Kato and pop up by Ryan Holgate for the second out of the inning, Daniel Susac picked up a huge two out single to plate the third run of the inning for Arizona.
It was all they would get off Rocker for a while as after the two out single by Susac, he would go on to retire 15 Arizona hitters in a row as he found his rhythm against a tough Cats’ offense.
Chase Silseth was on the mound for Arizona. He entered the night having not thrown his best stuff in his recent outings, but that was to be put behind him entering this outing in the College World Series against one of the top baseball programs in the country.
After registering two quick outs, a single followed by a misplay by Nik McClaughry in let field plated the first run of the night for Vanderbilt. Silseth continued to face trouble on the base paths the next couple of innings, but it was evident that the offenses early lead gave him more confidence on the mound, and he was able to work around numerous jams early in the game as Arizona led 3-1 heading to the bottom half of the fourth inning.
After once again recording two quick outs in the bottom half of the fourth inning, Silseth allowed a single before falling behind in the count 2-0 when he left a pitch right up the middle that was taken advantage of by Jayson Gonzalez that tied the game at 3-3. Gonzalez went 2-for-3 on the night batting in the No. 9 hole in Vanderbilt’s lineup.
After striking out Boissiere and Tony Bullard for the first two outs of the sixth inning, Rocker hit Kato on a 2-2 pitch for the first Wildcats base runner since Susac’s RBI single in the first inning. Three pitches later and the 101st pitch of the night for Rocker, Holgate rocketed a two-run long ball to give the Cats’ the lead back at 5-3.
Silseth started the seventh inning with a 5-3 lead, striking out the first hitter he faced. The next hitter he faced drew a full count before Silseth went on to walk him on a pitch that was in the strike zone. It ultimately seemed to fool the home plate umpire which led to him leaving the game with the runner on first base.
Johnson and Silseth both made it clear after the game that they thought it was a strike.
Despite the loss for the team, Silseth still felt comfortable in what he brought to the team with his performance.
“I felt the fastball command was really working for me really well,” Silseth said. “Being able to locate that pretty low, lower part of the strike zone to get a lot of groundballs as you saw today. I felt really good about my performance. I was just battling and competing out there to give myself a chance to win and I felt like I did that, so I did my job.”
The Wildcats decided to bring in Preston Price (with Riley Cooper also warming up) in relief of Silseth, and that is when the game got away for Arizona as a passed ball followed by a single and home run gave Vanderbilt their first lead of the night at 6-5.
Despite the disappointing appearance by Price, Silseth made it clear he still has full confidence in the bullpen behind him.
“I always have trust going into the bullpen with my guys,” Silseth said. “I am backing them full after that.”
After getting the second out of the inning, Cooper entered the game for the final out of the frame before recording the first two outs of the eighth inning as well.
The Wildcats trailed 6-5 entering the ninth inning. Daniel Susac opened the frame with a huge double to put himself in scoring position immediately. After Tyler Casagrande hit a hard ground out to first base, Mac Bingham came in to pinch-run for Susac. An infield single by Nik McClaughry put runners on the corners before Donta' Williams swung at the first pitch he saw and lifted the ball into center field to tie the game. After Netz recorded the first out of the next half inning, T.J. Nichols shut the door to send the game into extra innings.
Vanderbilt had the Wildcats pitching on the ropes in each of the extra frames, putting the lead runner on base in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings. They loaded the bases with one out in the 11th inning when Vince Vannelle came in and picked up a huge strikeout and ground out to escape the jam.
In the top of the 12th inning, Williams led off with a double as the Wildcats looked to take the lead back. However, the next three hitters all got out to leave Williams stranded on second base.
After picking up another lead off single in the bottom half of the inning, Vanderbilt second baseman Parker Noland laid down a perfect bunt down the first base line. As Boissiere and Kato both went to cover first base. Noland reached first base safely and they had two runners on base with nobody out. After getting the next hitter to pop up to third base, Vannelle walked the following hitter to load the bases before a walk-off single won the game for the Commodores.
“Great college baseball game,” Johnson said. “Two great teams with really great players. Credit to Vanderbilt, put a few more quality at-bats together [and] continued to put pressure on us. I felt like we were on the ropes every inning, doing everything we could to get out of it and just came up a little bit short.”
The Wildcats struck out a season-high 19 times, only drawing one walk. Johnson had nothing but praise for Rocker.
“When you got to get started and when it’s up there at 96 and 97 [MPH], he can make you chase,” Johnson said. “As detailed as we put work into it [and] as good as our guys had been at that, he kind of found another gear and so you tip your hat to [Rocker.] That is why he is going to be a very valued commodity and why he gets the attention that he gets.”
The Wildcats will play in an elimination game against Stanford on Monday at 11 a.m. MST.
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