The Arizona baseball team will have to wait another day to potentially clinch their first trip back to the College World Series since 2016, falling 12-3 against Ole Miss to force a deciding game three in this best two-of-three Super Regional series.
After falling behind 3-0 early Friday night, the Wildcats fell behind again on Saturday after Ole Miss leadoff hitter Jacob Gonzalez hit a home run to open up the bottom half of the first inning with the Rebels acting as the “home” team in this game despite playing at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona knew runs would not come easy against Ole Miss starter Doug Nikhazy, one of the best pitchers in the country.
The Wildcats put a runner on base in each of the first two innings off Nikhazy, but were unable to bring either of them home. The bottom half of the second inning is when everything quickly went wrong for the Wildcats and starter Garrett Irvin, who was coming off a complete game shutout last weekend in regional play.
The Rebels put together a number of solid at-bats in a row against Irvin, making him throw a lot of pitches before recording four straight hits which was capped off by a two-run home run hit by Peyton Chatagnier. Ole Miss plated six runs on six hits in this frame, and Irvin was done after just 1.1 innings where he allowed all seven runs to this point on seven hits with two strikeouts and one walk. Arizona brought in Austin Smith, who recorded the final two outs of the second inning.
Arizona manager alluded to Irvin's struggles having a lot to do with him leaving the ball over the plate too much.
"I think [Irvin] just missed up and over the plate against a really good offensive team," said head coach Jay Johnson. "Those guys hit a lot of balls hard, extra base-hits. They're balanced, just got a lot of the plate and got a lot of balls up in the zone, and they hit them."
It was at this point where the Wildcats were down 7-0. They knew it would not be easy to overcome this deficit, especially against Nikhazy, but if anyone can make it happen, it would be this Arizona lineup.
The Wildcats chipped away into the deficit in the fourth inning as back-to-back hits by Tony Bullard and Ryan Holgate cut the Rebels lead to 7-2. Arizona thought they might have a chance to slowly chip away throughout the rest of the game, but that also meant shutting down the Rebels lineup the rest of the game which they were unable to do.
The next half inning, Ole Miss plated three runs on Smith to extend their lead to 10-2. Smith allowed three runs on three hits over two innings in relief of Irvin before he was replaced by Quinn Flanagan.
Johnson believed that this game could have ended much differently had the Wildcats kept Ole Miss off the board in the next half inning after cutting the deficit to 7-2 in the top half of the fourth inning.
"I think it would have been different," Johnson said.
The tricky part at this point for Johnson and his coaching staff was figuring out how to work the bullpen throughout the rest of the game, understanding that they would likely be playing again on Sunday.
Flanagan went on to go 3.2 innings, allowing two runs on six hits with three strikeouts. Donta' Williams added on one more run for the Wildcats with a long ball over the Terry Francona Hitting Center in right field in the seventh inning.
The Wildcats will have to put this one behind themselves quickly. Branden Boissiere is excited for this moment and believes the team can turn it around.
"We're going to really compete together," Boissiere said. "I think it's going to be a really good time. We don't have to be here, we get to be here. We're just playing a game overall, and I'm really excited for [Sunday] to see how the team bounces back. I think it'll be a good outcome for us."
Arizona and Ole Miss will be playing again on Sunday with a trip to the College World Series on the line. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
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