The Arizona baseball team entered game two of the Super Regionals flying high with confidence after defeating Ole Miss in the opener in convincing fashion. The team couldn’t replicate that performance tonight as they went on to get humbled by the Rebels in a 12-3 losing effort at Hi Corbett Field on Saturday, June 12.
Here are the key stats that emerged from the stat sheet in the loss:
Arizona only hit 2-10 with runners in scoring position
The Wildcats have been able to deliver timely hits with runners in scoring position all season. However, Super Regionals have been a different story thus far for Arizona, as they have only managed to hit 3-15 with runners in scoring position through two games in this series.
A large part of the team’s struggles in this category was due to the phenomenal pitching performance by First Team All-American Doug Nikhazy on Saturday night. The Ole Miss ace was toying with the best lineup in the nation all night. Nikhazy was on a mission to keep the Rebels alive as he more than delivered. Nikhazy followed his brilliant outing against Florida State in his last start by putting on an encore and turning in another quality start. He finished tossing 5.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and registering 10 strikeouts.
The Wildcats had absolutely no answers for Nikhazy as he was in full command of the strike zone and kept them off balance with his mix of fastballs and off-speed pitches. Arizona was caught looking on strike three eight different times thanks to Nikhazy’s electric curveball and slider. There were times when it appeared that Arizona was going to get to the All-American and make him pay on several scoring opportunities. However, the Wildcats came up short on too many key scoring situations that led to 10 runners left on base overall. If Arizona would have come through in several of those situations in the early innings, it may have potentially turned the tide of the game and swung the momentum in their favor.
To make matters worse, Arizona only hit 4-20 with runners on base. Going into this contest, it was well documented that they were really going to have to earn their way to Omaha as they were pitted against one of the most dominant left-handers in the nation. Arizona head coach Jay Johnson was quick to credit Nikhazy for his superb performance and felt that his team opened the strike zone more than usual.
“Nikhazy is different than most guys that we face,” Johnson said. “I’m going to credit him; he’s a bulldog [and] competed. I thought later in the game, we opened up the zone more than we typically do. We’ll get that cleaned up with some good work tomorrow before the game and be backed in character as you say.”
Arizona pitching allow 12 earned runs on 16 hits
Arizona’s pitching came out in full force and delivered an outstanding performance in game one as they were only responsible for three earned runs on six hits. The pitching staff couldn’t quite carry over that momentum as they looked the complete opposite in game two. Ole Miss quickly let Arizona know from the first pitch that this series was far from over.
The Rebels jumped out to a commanding 7-0 lead in just the second inning as Garrett Irvin struggled to hit his spots and left too many pitches over the plate. Ole Miss hitters took full advantage as they poured on six runs in the inning. The Rebels capped off the big inning with an exclamation point as Peyton Chatagnier sent a two-run homerun over the left field wall to stretch their lead to 7-0. Going into this contest, it was pivotal that Irvin matched Nikhazy pitch-for-pitch if he was going to give Arizona any realistic chance in winning this game. As great as the Wildcats’ offense has been all season, even a 7-0 deficit against a great pitcher like Nikhazy would have been too much to overcome.
One player that really stood out for Ole Miss and provided plenty of headaches for Arizona pitching was catcher Hayden Dunhurst. He finished the night hitting 3-4 with one walk and driving in two runs. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco touched on Dunhurst’s spark from the bottom of the lineup and his outstanding defensive play behind the plate so far this weekend.
“[Dunhurst] was our player of the game,” Bianco said. “He was terrific. I think [he had] three hits. The sexy thing is the homeruns and the hits, but Dunhurst has caught 18 innings in 100 degree heat, and nothing gets by him. He throws runners out and blocks all the balls and just handles the pitches. He’s been terrific this weekend.”
The Arizona bullpen didn’t do themselves any favors either as Austin Smith, Quinn Flanagan and Ian Churchill combined to give up five earned runs on nine hits and four walks in 6.2 innings pitched. They did everything they could to pick up the slack, but the Rebels were just too locked-in and showed great discipline at the plate tonight. The absence of Randy Abshier and Gil Luna really showed in this game as Arizona would have certainly benefited from their two dominant left-handers out of the bullpen.
Four key players for Arizona combine to go 1-12 at the plate
Getting a hit off Nikhazy is easier said than done as the Wildcats weren’t naive of this tall task entering tonight’s game. They managed to get six hits off him and 10 hits overall. However, they could have used more production from Kobe Kato and bottom of the order hitters in Ryan Holgate, Tanner O’Tremba and Nik McClaughry. All four combined to hit only 1-12 in the game. The Wildcats knew that they were going to have to get strong production from the bottom of the order if they were to have a chance against Nikhazy and possibly come out on top. Turns out, this lack of production came back to haunt Arizona as their top of the order guys wouldn’t be able to do it all.
Kato has quietly been one of Arizona’s most reliable hitters this season but hasn’t looked like his dominant self as he’s gone only 1-6 at the plate through two games in Super Regionals. McClaughry, another unsung hero for the Wildcats this season with multiple game winning hits to show for, has struggled in this series as well, only hitting 1-7 in these last two games. Holgate and O’Tremba have certainly had their fair share of big offensive production throughout the course of the season as well. Despite this, they have struggled in this series, combining to go 3-14 at the plate. If Arizona is to advance to Omaha and fend off elimination tomorrow night, they’re going to need big nights offensively from these four players.
Arizona will look to bounce back from a tough loss as they will play Ole Miss in a do-or-die game three on Sunday, June 13, with a chance to advance to the College World Series for the first time since 2016.
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