The Arizona baseball team overcame a rough start to defeat Grand Canyon 12-6 Friday night, June 4, in the Wildcats opening game of the Tucson Regional under the bright lights of Hi Corbett Field.
Starting pitcher Chase Silseth was on the mound for Arizona. After striking out the opening hitter on three pitches and getting another quick out, it looked like Silseth was going to cruise through a quick first inning, but the Antelopes put together a two-out rally with four straight hits to take an early 2-0 lead.
It was evident that Grand Canyon’s goal was to not necessarily hit the ball hard but rather simply make contact and put pressure on the Wildcats defense. That worked against Silseth, and it carried into the second inning as the Antelopes posted two more runs on Silseth to take an early 4-0 lead. It could have easily been 5-0 with Grand Canyon still threatening had it not been for a phenomenal diving catch by Donta' Williams in center field that was easily SportsCenter Top-10 worthy.
Despite falling behind 4-0 early, Arizona knows what their lineup is capable of, which is why there was no panic in the dugout despite the early deficit.
"We've had plenty of games like that," Williams said. "I feel like it doesn't matter what happens previously. We'll always find a way to put runs on the board, make pitches and stuff like that."
After a quiet first inning, the Wildcats rallied to score two runs in the bottom half of the second inning.
After a huge series against Dixie State to close the regular season, Tony Bullard continues his recent hot streak with a solo home run to put Arizona on the board. The Cats’ continued to put pressure on Ohl and three singles later, the Wildcats cut the deficit to 4-2 through two innings after an RBI single was hit by Nik McClaughry.
Silseth worked his first scoreless frame of the night in the third inning before Arizona cut into the deficit even more with another RBI by Bullard, this time a single that drove in Kobe Kato with two outs to bring Arizona to within one run.
Grand Canyon looked to add to their lead in the fourth inning with a leadoff double off Silseth in the fourth inning, which led to the Wildcats pulling him out of the game. Silseth finished the night allowing four runs on nine hits over three innings with four strikeouts.
True freshman Riley Cooper entered the game out of the bullpen for the Wildcats. GCU got runners on the corners with nobody out after a sacrifice bunt attempt led to an Arizona error as Kato dropped what would have been the first out of the inning at first base. Cooper was able to come up huge for Arizona, forcing a pop up followed by a double play to escape the inning unscathed and keep the Cats’ offense within one run.
"I think there was a couple key plays in the game," head coach Jay Johnson said. "Getting the double play ball with [runners on] first and third was huge because they had a leadoff triple, or a runner at third base with no outs that did not score. I really felt like momentum of the game swung back to our dugout at that time."
The Wildcats took advantage of the opportunity the next half inning as a double by Tanner O’Tremba and single by Nik McClaughry put runners on the corners before Williams grounded into a fielders choice that scored O’Tremba to tie the game at 4-4.
Cooper then worked around a leadoff single to toss another scoreless inning, which was followed by 2.1 innings by T.J. Nichols. The two true freshman relievers combined to throw 4.1 innings, allowing one run on three hits with one strikeout.
After Ryan Holgate was hit by a pitch to open the bottom half of the sixth inning, O’Tremba crushed a two-run home run to give Arizona a 6-4 lead and their first lead of the evening. O'Tremba did not know he was starting until soon before the game, but he knew he was ready for the moment.
"I mean, [Johnson] came up to me and he mentioned it," O'Tremba said. "I just said, 'Alright, sounds good' and whatever he chooses, I am always for that for anyone, you know [Tyler] Casagrande, [Blake] Paugh, if [Mac] Bingham was healthy so just next man up. Definitely excited to get the opportunity."
The story of the night was the bottom of the lineup as the final four starters in the lineup for Arizona combined to rack up nine hits with six RBIs. This included three-hit performances from Bullard and O’Tremba.
With a 7-4 lead heading into the eighth inning, left-hander Gil Luna entered the game with a runner on second base and one out. He got the second out of the inning with a strikeout that appeared to be low, but a great frame job by Susac behind the plate helped Luna on the mound.
The Antelopes then picked up two straight two-out hits to cut the Wildcats lead to 7-6. Johnson and pitching coach Nate Yeskie left Luna in the game with Vince Vannelle warming up in the bullpen. The plan all along was for that next hitter to be the last one Luna faced on the night.
"When he got the last out, that was his last hitter," Johnson said. "Because it was [Brock] Burton and it was a matchup situation, we were going to go to a reliever if it got to [Jacob] Wilson right there."
When it appeared Luna had a successful pick-off attempt at first base for the final out of the inning, the umpire then called a balk on Luna to move the runner in scoring position to second base. Luna was able to get the next hitter to pop up to escape the jam with Arizona still holding onto a one run lead.
The Wildcats electric offense hoped to pick up some insurance runs in the bottom half of the eighth inning, and they were able to do so, blowing the game open with a five-run frame that included a bases loaded single hit by Kato that plated two runs. Dawson Netz then closed the game out in the ninth inning to secure the opening victory for Arizona.
It was a record breaking night at Hi Corbett with the attendance of 5,434 people being the biggest crowd ever for an NCAA baseball game at this field.
"It was awesome," O'Tremba said. "The fans are a huge part, especially with [COVID-19] occurring last year and this year. It is so awesome to see the fans, and I can't wait to see them [Saturday] and the next day and the next week. We couldn't appreciate them more, so it was amazing."
Arizona will now get ready for a game against UC Santa Barbara, who defeated Oklahoma State 14-4 Friday afternoon. The winner will advance to the championship game of the region with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. MST at Hi Corbett Field.
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