The offense and defense were clicking on all cylinders for the No. 5 Arizona baseball team on Sunday, June 6. Arizona defeated UC Santa Barbara 5-2 at Hi Corbett Field to win the Tucson Regional and advance to the Super Regionals. This was Arizona’s first regional championship win since 2016 and No. 19 overall.
The Wildcats were eager to get off to a quick start. Center fielder Donta’ Williams opened the game with a walk, making it 44 straight games Williams has reached base.
“He is special,” head coach Jay Johnson said. “You could make an argument that [Williams] was the best player in the Pac-12 this year. His contribution of both sides of the ball … . He is playing to the vision that I had for him when I brought him here.”
While designated hitter Jacob Berry did strike out swinging, Williams managed to steal second base and advance to third after a throwing error. That was as far as Williams would get as the next two batters got out.
The Wildcats got right back to work in the second inning with a leadoff single from second baseman Kobe Kato. After third baseman Tony Bullard popped out, right fielder Ryan Holgate singled down the right field line to set up runners on the corners for left fielder Tanner O’Tremba. Ahead in the count 1-0, O’Tremba lined a single to right field to open the scoring for the Wildcats. Shortstop Nik McClaughry hit a sac fly to right field which gave Arizona a 2-0 lead after two.
On defense, Arizona turned to pitcher Chandler Murphy to close out UCSB. Murphy allowed base runners to get on in the first and second inning, but he was bailed out by back-to-back double plays to end both innings. UCSB did manage to get a run from Murphy after an RBI single by third baseman Cole Cummings that cut the Arizona lead to 2-1.
Murphy found himself in trouble yet again in the top of the fourth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, UCSB decided to go to pinch hitter Christian Kirtley to face Murphy. After working the count to 3-2, Murphy challenged Kirtley with a fastball right down the pipe and struck him out swinging.
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The defense came up clutch again in the top of the fifth inning. With a runner on and one out, Murphy got right fielder Zach Rodriguez to ground into an unconventional 6-3-5 double play. The play was reviewed, but the call stood, and Murphy escaped yet another inning. That would be it for Murphy who finished the night with five innings pitched, allowing one run with three strikeouts.
Lefty-reliever Randy Abshier came into the game in the top of the sixth and made his presence felt immediately, striking out the first two batters he faced. Center fielder Jason Willow managed to get a single and a stolen base off Abshier. After getting down in the count 2-0 to the next batter, Arizona went to the bullpen again and brought out Dawson Netz to halt UCSB’s momentum. The change paid off and Netz threw three straight strikes to end the inning.
The Wildcats finally broke open the scoring in the bottom of the sixth inning. After Bullard singled to right field, Holgate came up and crushed a 1-1 pitch over the right field wall to give Arizona a 4-1 lead.
“It was awesome,” Holgate said. “It was not as cool as winning the Tucson Regional, but I was happy that the team was sticking with the plan, and we were just doing what we do.”
UCSB answered yet again in the next inning with a run to cut the lead 4-2 after 7 innings.
The Wildcats had one final shot in the eighth inning to add some insurance runs to avoid the ninth. Bullard was first up and drew a four-pitch walk, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. With the next two both getting out, it looked as if Arizona would leave another runner stranded.
McClaughry was up next, but before his at-bat Johnson pulled him to the side for a brief discussion of what pitches to look for. Whatever Johnson said worked and McClaughry lined an 0-2 pitch into right-center field to extend the lead to 5-2.
Arizona called upon closer Vince Vannelle to get the final outs needed to win the Tucson Regional. Vannelle looked sharp after striking out the first batter but allowed back-to-back singles after that to bring the tying run up to the plate. Vannelle found his form once again, getting the next two batters to ground out and win the Tucson Regional.
“When I think about this team, I really believed we were going to be good this year,” Johnson said. “The pitching is a couple things. We have depth. It is hard to prepare for our entire staff … so we can match up at a high level.”
Arizona will host the Super Regionals and will face the winner of the Ole Miss vs. Southern Miss game.
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