A trip to the College World Series was on the line as the Arizona baseball team was seeking its first trip to Omaha since head coach Jay Johnson took over the program in 2016. After an underwhelming performance against one of the top pitchers in the nation in Doug Nikhazy, the Wildcats quickly put game two in the rear-view mirror and delivered a signature showing and a huge 16-3 statement win over Ole Miss in a do-or-die game three.
Johnson alluded to the significance of this monumental achievement for the program and how this is a day that he will never forget.
“This is the tied for first happiest day of my life … hands down,” Johnson said. “I’m so proud of this team, the players, coaches [and] administration. There’s so many people that contributed to this. Relative to the accomplishment, you can’t get further past one hand on the number of programs that have been twice [to Omaha] in their last five opportunities. To get to the College World Series two times in the last five chances in this day in age is remarkable. This is as good as it gets.”
Something had to give in this game as both teams won their games in this series in a convincing fashion. Not to mention, in a surprise move, Johnson elected to give reliever Dawson Netz his first start of the season. Ole Miss also made an interesting move as they decided the start its regular closer in Taylor Broadway.
Netz did his part as he retired the first six batters that he faced in the game. The high-powered Arizona offense backed up Netz as they took a 1-0 lead thanks to a two-out RBI single by red hot Tony Bullard in the bottom of the first inning. Despite his strong pitching early on, he would get pulled in the top of the third inning after allowing a leadoff single to Hayden Dunhurst. He would be replaced by T.J. Nichols in relief who immediately gave up a double to deep center field to the first batter he faced.
Nichols then followed by allowing a run to even the game at one that came via a sacrifice fly from the Rebels’ Cael Baker. However, Nichols battled back and settled in as he caught Peyton Chatagnier looking on strike three on a 3-2 pitch to end the top of third and strand a runner on second.
As the game was still deadlocked at one, Donta' Williams stepped up to the plate and slapped a one-out single into right field to get something brewing for the Wildcats. Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the year Jacob Berry followed with a momentous two-run home run that flew way over the right-center-field wall to give Arizona a huge 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third. Berry’s no-doubter sent the Arizona faithful into a frenzy as the Wildcats would never look back after this.
Right when it appeared that this game of this magnitude was destined to be a tight affair, Arizona had no plans of making this a tight contest as the bats went berserk and put up a seven-spot in the fourth inning. Ryan Holgate kicked things off as he drilled a two-run no-doubter over the Terry Francona Hitting Center in right field to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 5-1. After chasing Broadway for five runs, he would get replaced by Jack Doughtery in the bottom frame of the inning with no outs and a runner on first.
The pitching change didn’t matter as Williams went on to stretch Arizona’s lead to 6-1 after poking an RBI double into shallow center field. Ensuing Branden Boissiere would deliver the biggest hit of the night as his bases-clearing three-run double gave Arizona a commanding 9-1 lead and put the game out of reach. Kobe Kato continued the scoring surge as he lined a two-out single down the first baseline that scored Boissiere and extended the Wildcats lead to 10-1.
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After allowing a leadoff single in the top of the fifth, Nichols stayed composed as he went on to record three straight outs to end the half-inning. Nichols and Netz combined to go 7.1 innings pitched, responsible for only two earned runs on four hits and collecting nine strikeouts. This was exactly the performance that Arizona needed from its pitching staff tonight after Garrett Irvin was chased for seven runs in just 1.1 innings in game two. The Arizona offense will steal the headlines in this game, however, this should not overshadow the great combined outing by Netz and Nichols as they were both very instrumental in tonight's series-clinching win.
Branden Boissiere had all the confidence in the world in T.J. Nichols when he replaced Dawson Netz early in the third inning and sensed that his outing was going to longer than expected.
“I have all the confidence in the world in T.J. [Nichols] when he gets out on the mound,” Boissiere said. “I honestly knew that he was going to go longer than he was slotted to go. He just has elite stuff. He throws it for strikes and he pitches like he’s a junior here and he’s only a freshman. I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.”
After racing out to a 10-1 lead after four innings, the Wildcats could have easily eased their foot off the gas pedal. Not this team, as Arizona went on to score six more runs from the fifth through the eighth innings combined. Berry continued his big night as he hit a ground-rule double to deep left field that extended the Arizona lead to 11-1. Boissiere continued his big night at the plate as well as he brought in two more runs with a two-out opposite-field line drive to left field. Who else but Berry to cap off the Wildcats’ huge night at the plate as he lifted a sacrifice fly to left field to make it 16-2 in the bottom frame of the eighth.
Tonight’s game was reminiscent of game one in several aspects in which Arizona got out to early leads via the home run ball and was able to convert in key scoring situations thanks to timely situational hitting. Johnson offered a lot of praise to his team for being able to put on a superb offensive performance against an elite team like Ole Miss and even made an interesting claim about this year’s Arizona offense.
“Offensively, we did so much more … that was legit,” Johnson said. “What a performance, I think Friday night’s game and Sunday’s game are the best we played all year and we’ve played some really good baseball this year so that says a lot. I think this is the best offense in Pac-12 history and I’m not a historian so I can’t validate that. If there’s one that’s equal, I would like to see what that [would] look like.”
Arizona will make its 18th appearance in the College World Series in program history and open the first round of play against another elite SEC team in Vanderbilt next weekend. Times and dates of the three-game series are to be determined.
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