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The Daily Wildcat

 

Dominant pitching propels Arizona baseball to a three-game home sweep of Louisiana Tech

Arizona+sophomore+Brendan+Summerhill+bats+during+the+game+against+the+Naranjeros+at+the+Mexican+Baseball+Fiesta+on+Oct.+5+at+Kino+Veterans+Memorial+Stadium.+The+Naranjeros+are+from+Hermosillo%2C+Mexico.
Danielle Main
Arizona sophomore Brendan Summerhill bats during the game against the Naranjeros at the Mexican Baseball Fiesta on Oct. 5 at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Naranjeros are from Hermosillo, Mexico.

Day 1: Friday, April 12

Game 1: Arizona vs. Louisiana Tech at 6 p.m. 

A pair of dropped fly balls, some clutch hitting from Brendan Summerhill and a dominant performance from starter Jackson Kent haunted Louisiana Tech University as the University of Arizona Wildcats extended their winning streak to nine games with a 9-1 win Friday night.

It was a complete game for the Wildcats, who jumped on Louisiana Tech early, scoring 6 runs over just 4.1 innings on Louisiana Tech starter Reed Smith.

It began with a leadoff single for Richie Morales, who immediately stole second base before advancing to third on a wild pitch. This series of events was a microcosm of what made Arizona’s offense so effective: solid contact, aggressive baserunning and capitalizing on Louisiana Tech’s defensive mistakes.

Garen Caulfield brought Morales home with an RBI groundout to third to put the Wildcats on the board. With two outs in the inning, Summerhill smoked a two-out triple to deep center field that fell out of the glove of Cole McConnell, allowing Adonys Guzman to bring him home with a single to put Arizona up 2-0.

Louisiana Tech responded with back-to-back doubles from Jorge Corona and Adarius Myers to make it a 2-1 game in the top of the second, but it’d be their only run of the night.

Arizona starting pitcher Kent picked up the win, giving up just 1 earned run on three hits and a walk over seven innings pitched while lowering his season ERA to 2.60. His nine strikeouts matched a career best.

“I think I was just commanding all four pitches,” Kent said of his performance. “I was throwing cutter, changeup, fastball up, curveball in for strikes, getting ahead of guys the whole time, which is the main reason I got those strikeouts.”

In the bottom of the third, Guzman again brought Summerhill home, this time with a high fly ball that Louisiana Tech third baseman Will Safford allowed to drop in the infield grass. For the second time in three innings, a dropped fly ball with two outs resulted in a run for Arizona, though, unlike McConnell’s attempted catch on the run in center field, Safford’s botch was ruled an error.

In the fourth, Emilio Corona jacked a triple to deep left-center field, scoring on the very next pitch via a Maddox Mihalakis RBI groundout to put Arizona up 4-1. It was Corona’s only hit of the game, though he reached base two more times when he was hit by two pitches. He also accounted for 2 runs scored and a stolen base.

“Emilio Corona tonight was the offensive player of the game because he gets on base, he’s so good on stolen bases, he’s good on balls in the dirt,” Arizona head coach Chip Hale said.

With two outs in the top of the fifth and a runner on second, first baseman Tommy Splaine made for a hitless night at the plate with a spectacular diving stop down the line to get the final out of the inning and prevent a run from scoring.

“His potential is huge at the plate,” Hale said of Splaine. “He’s still got a long way to go and we know that. But he brings it every day out here at first base and it’s a huge help for us.”

With momentum on their side, the Wildcats all but put the game away in the bottom of the inning, burning through four Louisiana Tech pitchers in the process. A leadoff Mason White single set up Summerhill, who came through once again with a double down the right field line that scored White from first.

And once again, Guzman brought Summerhill home with a single, this time to left field.

“At the beginning of the year, I was still adjusting,” Summerhill said. “Playing your best is a lot easier when you’re comfortable. Our coaching and my teammates do a great job of making everyone comfortable.”

A trio of walks, a Mihalakis single and a wild pitch with the bases loaded scored two more and gave Arizona an 8-1 lead.

From there, it was smooth sailing, as the Wildcats retired the final 17 Bulldogs in a row. Dawson Netz and Anthony “Tonko” Susac closed out the game for Arizona, striking out the final six Bulldogs.

“I think we need to get him into some closer games because his stuff is incredible,” Hale said of Susac, who made his third straight scoreless relief appearance after struggling in a short-starter role earlier in the season.

Netz is another example of a reliever finding himself in the bullpen. After giving up 4 earned runs over his first 3.1 innings of the season, Netz hasn’t allowed a run in his last 7.2 innings of work, amassing 13 strikeouts while giving up just two hits.

The Wildcats were aggressive on the basepaths, stealing three bases and routinely pushing for extra bases when the ball was in play. Summerhill exemplified this aggression in the fifth inning when he was originally called out after trying to stretch an RBI double to third base. However, despite the throw beating him to the base, the replay showed he avoided the tag and the call was overturned.

“I did a swim move and he tagged the ground,” Summerhill said.

Day 2: Saturday, April 13 

Game 2: Arizona vs. Louisiana Tech at 6 p.m.

Nothing went right for Arizona during the first eight innings of their game Saturday night.

Louisiana Tech struck early. Dalton Davis and Cole McConnell led off the game with a pair of doubles to deep left field to get the Bulldogs’ first run across. With one out, Jorge Corona brought McConnell home with a single to center field, advancing to second base on a Summerhill error and putting Louisiana Tech up 2-0.

When Easton Breyfogle lifted a ball over the right-field wall with two outs and Corona on first in the bottom of the second, the Wildcats thought his home run had tied the game.

The umpires disagreed, however, calling it a foul ball. Arizona challenged the ruling but the camera that could’ve shown the trajectory of the ball was blinded by sunlight, meaning the call on the field stood. On the very next pitch, Breyfogle hit a single to center field as Corona took off from first base on a hit and run, but Corona was thrown out at home on a good relay by Louisiana Tech to keep the Wildcats scoreless.

After allowing another run for Louisiana Tech in the top of the fourth, Hale was ejected during a pitching change. Hale said after the game that he was still hot from the foul call on Breyfogle.

“I thought Breyfogle’s ball was a home run,” Hale said. “It’s just frustration on my part because the kid had a great at-bat.”

In his shortest outing of the season, Clark Candiotti went just 3.2 innings and gave up 3 earned runs on seven hits and two walks, striking out three.

Conversely, Louisiana Tech’s Luke Nichols had arguably his best start of the season, pitching 6.1 scoreless innings and allowing just four hits. The Wildcats made contact, succumbing to just three strikeouts, but it never seemed to be strong contact.

“It seemed like we couldn’t get a break,” Hale said. “[We were] struggling against another left-handed pitcher […]. We really struggle against those guys.”

A scoring opportunity emerged in the bottom of the fifth when Corona led off the inning with a double to the left-field corner and advanced to third on a subsequent flyout.

One out, runner on third.

However, the opportunity was met with a limp lineout to first base from Splaine and a called strike three on Xavier Esquer. The Wildcats failed to reach second base over the next three innings.

“We thought some calls weren’t going our way tonight, but that’s baseball,” Caulfield said. “It’s nice to play for a guy like Chip who’s gonna let the umpires hear it and have our backs.”

Reliever Kyler Heyne tried to give the team a spark, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning by inducing a flyout from the Bulldogs’ most dangerous hitter in McConnell. Heyne again worked his way out of trouble in the next inning, striking out Kasten Furr to strand runners on second and third.

Louisiana Tech eventually added to its lead, cashing in on porous defense to score 2 unearned runs off Arizona’s bullpen in the eighth and ninth inning. Arizona’s fielders committed five errors on the night, a team-high.

Arizona appeared dead in the water. Fans started filling out sometime around the end of the seventh inning. By the end of the game, less than a third of the 3,712 fans in attendance remained at Hi Corbett Field. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that, for the first eight innings, the Wildcats played their sloppiest baseball of the season.

Fortunately for them, games don’t conclude after the eighth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Arizona came alive.

It started with Caulfield working a full count walk, followed by a five-pitch walk to Summerhill, causing Louisiana Tech head coach Lane Burroughs to bring in two-way senior Ethan Bates from right field to pitch. Bates entered the game with a 1.98 ERA over 27.1 innings pitched on the season.

“To sit and watch the ninth inning was incredible because that’s what good teams do,” Hale said, who had to watch the comeback from his office. “We can’t make five errors. It should’ve been 3-0 going [into the ninth]. So when you’re sitting in there going ‘okay, they’ve got their best set-up guy in there. How about we get there closer at least in the game?’ That’d be a victory for me. So we get him in, I’m like ‘okay, that’s a good thing.’ […] And then we start coming back.”

From there, it was a death by a thousand cuts. Guzman singled to right. Everyone held. Bases loaded, no outs. Corona singled to right field. 1 run scores. It’s 5-1. Breyfogle singled to right. Another run scored. Bases loaded. Still no outs. It’s 5-2.

“[In that situation], you can fold and you can swing at whatever you want,” Corona said. “But the hard thing to do in that situation is to stay disciplined to our plan and execute to the best of our abilities, which is what we did.”

After an infield flyout, Mihalakis, who entered the game as a pinch hitter an inning prior, hit a single to right field. 2 runs scored. It’s 5-4. A flyout advanced Breyfogle to third and brought up White with two outs and runners on the corners. White took a called strike before taking a hack at a ball in the dirt. They were down to their last strike.

Up to this point, White had zero hits and three strikeouts. He also committed both a fielding and a throwing error earlier in the game. It had been a game to forget and yet somehow, he stood in the batter’s box with a chance to tie or even win the game if he could just find a gap.

He did. White hit one deep into left-center field, splitting a pair of outfielders.

Ball game. Arizona stormed the field, mobbing White at second base and spraying water on him.

Except, it’s not. The ball bounced over the red line on the center field wall, a fact confirmed via replay, making it a ground rule double. By rule, Mihalakis was held to third base and a soaked White went to second. Tie game; two outs. Caulfield at the plate.

Caulfield took a ball before grounding a low fastball just past the diving glove of Louisiana Tech third baseman Safford to score Mihalakis from third. Ball game, for real this time. Caulfield’s teammates dumped the Gatorade cooler on him.

“[Assistant coach Toby DeMello] talks about it with hitters a lot. It doesn’t matter what happens the first three, the first four, the first five at-bats of the game. You always want that last one. That means you’re a good player,” Hale said when asked about Mason White’s clutch final at-bat. “That’s their attitude. Even when they’ve been struggling, they want that last one to get a chance to kind of rectify things and he did.”

Arizona batted around in the ninth, scoring 6 runs on six hits and a pair of walks. It was a total team effort from a team that just doesn’t seem to quit.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a game like that where you’re putting up all the runs in the last inning,” Arizona pitcher Cam Walty said. “That just shows you the team that we have and the fight that’s in this team.”

How does a team go from playing their worst baseball of the season to their best in just one inning?

“Man, I don’t know,” Caulfield said. “It’s baseball.”

Day 3: Sunday, April 14 

Game 3: Arizona vs. Louisiana Tech at 10 a.m.

A little over 12 hours after their unlikely walk-off victory, the Wildcats secured their sweep of Louisiana Tech with a 5-2 victory, drawing on early hitting and a strong performance from starting pitcher Walty.

If there were any concerns about a post-walk-off hangover, Summerhill put them to rest when he made an over-the-shoulder grab on a deep drive to left-center field for the game’s first out, robbing Dalton Davis of extra bases.

In the bottom of the first, a pair of walks placed runners on first and second for Corona, who scored the game’s first run with a single to center field. The Wildcats added another 2 runs in the bottom of the third, spurred by a Summerhill triple off the center field wall that scored Caulfield from first. Summerhill came home the next at-bat when Corona hit a weak opposite-field fly ball that dropped in between the right fielder and second baseman. A two-out RBI single to right from freshman Andrew Cain brought in the third run of the inning to put the Wildcats up 4-0.

“Whether we win or lose, you start from zero the next day,” Hale said. “And now you’re starting at 10 a.m. so there is a worry that guys are just going to feel pretty good about themselves and not come to play […]. But I was really proud of the way they came out, got ahead and just kept scoring.”

Louisiana Tech starter Turner Swistak struggled with control and was pulled early, giving up 4 earned runs on six hits and three walks over just two innings pitched.

With runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Breyfogle and Mihalakis successfully executed a delayed double steal to make it a 5-0 game.

In the bottom of the inning, Esquer lost a high popup in the sun, allowing the ball to drop on the infield grass and Safford to reach second base. Then, with two outs, catcher Blake McDonald lost another pop-up in the sun, allowing it to fall foul. The dropped fly balls cost Arizona, as two pitches later, Bates smoked one over the right field wall for a 2-run home run to make it a 5-2 game.

Walty made his second straight quality start, allowing 2 runs, both unearned, on four hits over six innings of work and striking out eight batters. He was efficient, throwing 77 strikes on 97 pitches without issuing a single walk.

Eric Orloff and Tony Pluta pitched a couple of scoreless innings in relief to seal the win for Arizona. The Wildcats bullpen didn’t allow an earned run over their 9.1 innings pitched this series. Pluta, who picked up the save, has still yet to allow a walk all season.

“I’m just trying to pound the zone,” Pluta said. “I’m not really trying to miss bats […]. They get themselves out most of the time.”

After a protracted slump, Corona has hit a hot streak at the plate. During the series, he had six hits in 10 at-bats, scoring 4 runs and accounting for 3 runs batted in, a double and a triple. Over the course of the past 10 games, his batting average has improved by 40 points from a season-low .208 to .248, and his on-base plus slugging has jumped over 100 points from .673 to .785.

The Wildcats have won 11 straight games, the longest streak in Division I College Baseball, since their 12-9 home loss against New Mexico State University on March 22. In that game, Arizona went down 9-1 before a fifth-inning rain delay sparked an 8-run offensive rally. Since the rain delay, Arizona has outscored their opponents 84-33.

“On the offensive side, we’ve found ways to win,” Hale said of the team’s winning streak. “Even when we haven’t had a lot of good contact, we’ve run the bases much better than we did early in the year. We’re not giving as many outs away. We’re being more aggressive and we’re finding that two-out hit.”

The sweep improved Arizona’s record to 21-13 (10-5 in Pac-12). The Wildcats trail only the University of Oregon and Oregon State University in the Pac-12 standings. They’ll play the latter at home in the final series of the regular season.

“I think that our bats are picking us up now and the pitching is staying consistent,” Walty said. “When you have both of those going at the same time, we’re a scary team.”

Looking ahead:

Arizona will travel to Brazell Field in Phoenix to take on GCU on Tuesday, April 16 at 7 p.m. before returning home for a three-game series against Washington State University that begins on Friday, April 19 at 6 p.m.


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