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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Walk-off hits from Mihalakis, White propel Arizona baseball to sweep

Wildcats reach their 10th straight conference win
Senior+Blake+McDonald+celebrating+as+the+cats+take+the+series+win+over+the+weekend+with+a+walk-off+from+Mason+White+during+game+against+Washington+State.+Arizonas+program-record+Pac-12+win+streak+is+now+to+10+games.+Final+score+for+the+Cats+7-6.
Danielle Main
Senior Blake McDonald celebrating as the cats take the series win over the weekend with a walk-off from Mason White during game against Washington State. Arizona’s program-record Pac-12 win streak is now to 10 games. Final score for the Cats 7-6.

The Arizona baseball team  blew two leads in the top of the ninth during its series against Washington State University. The bullpen, which had looked impenetrable in recent weeks, suddenly struggled to close out games late. However, as has often been the case for Arizona this season, late-game heroics from the bats led to a couple of walk-off wins, helping the Wildcats execute their fourth consecutive weekend series sweep and extend their conference winning streak to 10 games, their longest streak since joining the Pac-12 in 1979.

“We knew they were going to bring their best,” Arizona head coach Chip Hale said. “It’s a tough weekend for [Washington State]. They could have easily won two games.”

Day 1: Friday, April 19

Game 1: Arizona vs. Washington State at 6 p.m.

Emilio Corona can’t catch a break. He’s gone hitless in four at-bats tonight: a popout, a lineout and a pair of swinging strikeouts. He’ll finish the series 1 for 14, dropping his batting average to .238 on the season. Yet, he walks to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, his team down a run with two outs and runners on the corners.

In baseball, one good, well-timed at-bat can wipe the memory of a night full of bad ones. Corona’s only hit of the series does just that when he slaps a ground ball that just gets past the glove of Washington State third baseman Cole Cramer to tie the game.

The next hitter, Maddox Mihalakis, fights off a series of breaking balls before hitting a 2-2 pitch to left field that drops for a single. Third-base coach Toby DeMello sends Easton Breyfogle home. The throw from left fielder Max Hartman is high, allowing Breyfogle to slide under the catcher’s glove. Arizona walks it off. Again.

For the fifth time in their last eight home games, the Wildcats won via walk-off, rallying back from a disastrous top of the ninth to take game one against Washington State 8-7.

“The ‘80 team was the Cardiac Cats,” Hale said, referencing the 1980 National Championship team. “These guys are gonna give me a cardiac arrest.”

The previous half-inning, Arizona’s usually steady bullpen crumbled, with shutdown relievers Dawson Netz and Tony Pluta combining to allow 4 runs. It was the first earned run Netz had allowed since his March 8 appearance at USC.

“They did a really nice job of coming back,” Hale said of Washington State’s ninth-inning rally. “The walks to lead off the ninth were a tough deal.”

As the Wildcats have done so often this season, they fought back. It also didn’t hurt to have a little luck on their side.

With one out and a runner on first, Mason White smoked a 2-2 pitch to deep center field, walking out of the batter’s box as though he thought he’d hit a no-doubt home run. The ball died at the warning track, however, only to bounce out of the glove of center fielder Nate Swarts, putting runners on second and third and igniting yet another Arizona comeback.

Another pivotal moment came with two outs in the inning when Breyfogle took several close pitches to work a full-count walk and keep the game alive.

“I just say, ‘trust yourself. Trust yourself. Trust yourself,’” Breyfogle said when asked about his approach at the plate. “I just repeat it over and over in my head.”

Down a run early, the Wildcats scored 3 runs in the bottom of the fourth, capitalizing on a pair of walks, an Adonys Guzman single, and a double from White off the right-center field wall. An inning later, a Tommy Splaine solo-shot to left gave Arizona a 4-1 lead. The home run ended a 14 at-bat hitless streak for Splaine.

Sophomore ace Jackson Kent struggled to limit baserunners early, allowing two walks and seven hits, five of which came in the first three innings. However, despite scoring early and loading the bases in the top of the fifth, Washington State was only able to scratch across 2 runs off Kent over his six innings pitched.

“[Washington State] did a really good job of hitting his changeup tonight,” Hale said. “Which has really been a tough pitch for most teams to hit. I don’t know if they had something on him or he was just leaving it up too much. But I thought they did a really good job against him, and he just found a way to get outs.”

Mihalakis, who’s usually the designated hitter in Arizona’s lineup, started his first games of the season at third base this weekend, filling in for an injured Richie Morales. The hero of the game, donning an Arizona Wildcats championship belt over his right shoulder, Mihalakis stayed long after Hi Corbett Field cleared out, autographing gloves for kids near the right field bleachers. It’s an experience that the sophomore described as “surreal.

“Just the fact that people know my name,” Mihalakis said. “I hear pregame, even when we’re warming up, someone say my name, and I’m like, ‘wow, they actually kinda know who I am.’”

Day 2: Saturday, April 20

Game 2: Arizona vs. Washington State at 6 p.m.

The Wildcats decided to give their head coach’s heart a much-needed break on Saturday night.

A night after the Wildcats recorded their fifth walk-off win in their last eight home games, Arizona got a lead early, added to it during the middle innings, and shut down Washington State’s bats late.

Mihalakis followed up his late-game heroics on Friday with three doubles in four at-bats. His first double tied the game. His last double broke the game wide open in the bottom of the seventh, plating Arizona’s final 2 runs in its 7-1 victory over Washington State.

Arizona starting pitcher Clark Candiotti rebounded from his shortest start of the season last week against Louisiana Tech University, pitching six innings on Saturday night. The senior allowed runners to reach scoring position in four of his six innings, surrendering five hits and three walks, but was able to limit the damage to a single earned run scored on a Cole Cramer single in the top of the fourth.

“When you’re making pitches and the defense is working for you, it gives you confidence to get the next out,” Candiotti said. “They’ve been solid all year. They’re playing better than they ever have. It’s always a confidence boost when you know you have good defense behind you.”

Arizona was able to capitalize on Washington State’s mistakes. In the bottom of the fourth, Breyfogle reached third base on a fielding error from Washington State left fielder Hartman, eventually scoring the game-tying run on a Mihalakis double. Hartman made another error in the bottom of the fifth, mishandling a Garen Caulfield double off the wall and allowing him to advance to third base. Caulfield later scored on a wild pitch in the dirt, a feat White repeated in the seventh inning.

Sidearm pitcher Casey Hintz struck out three batters and allowed only a hit in his two innings of relief. Anthony “Tonko” Susac closed out the game with two strikeouts of his own. Susac has now pitched five scoreless innings in relief since his meltdown start against New Mexico State University on March 26. Susac credits an adjustment Arizona pitching coach Kevin Vance helped him make after the New Mexico State game for his improved performance out of the pen.

“Only throw everything as hard as you can,” Susac said. “My stuff has been so much better. Not only is the fastball better, the slider’s a lot better, the change-up’s a lot better. Other stuff plays better when you throw your stuff as hard as you can. It’s also easier mentally. When you’re trying to throw as hard as you can every pitch, you have to focus a little bit more.”

White reached base three times, drawing a pair of walks and hustling out a triple on a ground ball that took a weird hop over the shoulder of Washington State first baseman Joey Kramer. Meanwhile, Brendan Summerhill went three for five at the plate, including a home run he smoked to center field in the bottom of the seventh.

Day 3: Sunday, April 21

Game 3: Arizona vs. Washington State at noon

Arizona blew two 3-run leads Sunday afternoon as the Cougars once again clawed their way back to tie the game in the ninth inning.

Yet once again, Arizona found a way to win. This time, the Wildcats loaded the bases in the bottom of the 11th on a pair of hit-by-pitches and an intentional walk, bringing the ever-dangerous White to the plate. On a 3-1 count, White made contact with a pitch out of the zone, singling up the middle to secure a 7-6 win and a sweep for Arizona.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play the whole time,” White said. “I wasn’t concerned about hitting out of the zone because I knew I could hit it.”

“If you’re a run producer, you might go [out of the zone a little bit],” Hale said of White’s game-winning at-bat. “But he knows he can drive it up the middle. The infield’s in. It’s a good situation. He wants to get a hit there.”

Arizona scored 6 of its 7 runs in the first four innings. When a 3-run home run from Hartman tied the game for Washington State in the top of the third, Arizona responded with a Breyfogle double to retake a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the inning. Breyfogle had stayed in the game after taking a 91-mph fastball to the elbow an inning prior.

“When you get hit in that one spot, it just deadens it,” Hale said. “He kept running with his arm limp, so I said, ‘hey, can you go or not?’ And finally, the feeling came back so he’ll be fine.

After giving up the 3-run homer in the third, Arizona starter Cam Walty pitched three scoreless innings to secure his fourth quality start of the season. It was sixes all around for the Senior, who finished the day with six strikeouts over six innings while surrendering six hits.

“Our starters are at least giving us five, most of the time six, sometimes seven [innings],” Hale said. “So when you start getting on those kinds of rolls, it makes your bullpen so much better.”

Things got dicey for Arizona in the top of the seventh. With the score 6-3, Eric Orloff hit two batters and gave up a single to load the bases, allowing Kyle Russel to score a run with a sac-fly to center. With two outs, Hale opted to bring in lefty reliever Bradon Zastrow for a favorable matchup against lefty Casen Taggart, to which Washington State pinch hit righty Brandham Ponce for his first plate appearance of the series. Ponce delivered with a single to center field, pulling Washington State within 1 run and putting the tying run to third. Joey Kramer, another righty, walked, bringing up yet another righty pinch-hitter, Griffen Sotomayor, who hit a weak popout to Splaine in foul ground to end the inning and allow the Wildcats to narrowly avoid disaster.

Leading 6-5 entering the top of the ninth, Kyler Heyne gave up a 3-2 leadoff liner up the middle that nearly took his head off to put the tying run on first. Washington State head coach Nathan Choate was thrown out of the game after a sacrifice bunt moved Crew Park into scoring position. With two outs, Washington State brought in their third pinch-hitter of the game, lefty Ely Kennel, to face the right-handed Heyne.

The move paid off, as Kennel worked a seven-pitch at-bat before hitting a grounder up the middle for a single, scoring Parke from second base and tying the game.

Double plays in the 10th and 11th helped hold the Cougars’ offense in check. After struggling on Friday night, Netz and Pluta pitched back-to-back scoreless innings, giving Arizona an opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the 11th.

“I thought the double plays were huge,” Hale said. “The pitchers getting them was fantastic. We talked about [how hard it is] to close a game. Those same ground balls could easily bounce through on this hard infield.”

Summerhill extended his on-base streak to 32 games, going three for four with two RBIs and a run scored and improving his batting average to .366 on the season. However, he was also thrown out twice trying to take extra bases.

“The first one when he got thrown out at second I was perfectly fine with,” Hale said. “He came out of the box, saw the ball in the gap. The center fielder made a heck of a play and a heck of a throw. The other one was a hit and run. He didn’t locate the ball. When a hit and run is put on, you’re supposed to know where the ball is. It’s not a steal. So that’s a concern and we’ll have to talk about it and work at it.”

The sweep extends Arizona’s home win streak to 10 games, bringing the Wildcats’ record to 24-14 (13-5 in Pac-12) on the season and giving them sole possession of first place in the conference.

Looking ahead:

Arizona hits the road again next week, traveling to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a mid-week matchup against New Mexico State on Wednesday, April 24 at 6 p.m. The Wildcats will then head to Seattle for a weekend series against the University of Washington.


 

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