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The Daily Wildcat

 

Cardiac Cats secure walk-off victory; Arizona claims final Pac-12 Regular Season Title

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.

The Arizona men’s baseball team clinched the Pac-12 regular season championship with a win over Oregon State University on Saturday.

Oregon State University second baseman and prospective first-round pick Travis Bazzana entered the series against Arizona hitting .424, with 26 home runs in 50 games and a 1.561 on-base plus slugging. Bazzana has been, without a doubt, the best hitter this season in the Pac-12 Conference.

For the sake of comparison, let’s turn to Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball’s all-time home run leader. His best season by OPS came in 2004, when Bonds, while juiced to the gills on steroids, hit .362 with 45 home runs, compiling a 1.422 OPS. It is the highest single-season OPS of any qualified batter in MLB history.

It’s also more than 100 points lower than Bazzana’s OPS. Put simply: he’s an offensive monster.

Buoyed by one of the best pitching staffs in the Pac-12, a complete turnaround from last season, the No. 14 Arizona baseball team entered the series needing just a single win at home to claim the final Pac-12 regular-season title. In its way stood No. 6 Oregon State University, led by Bazzana and an offense that had put up double-digit run totals in each of its last five games.

After getting crushed in the first two games, the Wildcats once again rallied in game three, and clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title with yet another unlikely walk-off win in their final game of the regular season.

Day 1: Thursday, May 16

Game 1: No. 14 Arizona vs. No. 6 Oregon State at 6 p.m.

A 5-run third inning for Oregon State and another short start from Jackson Kent spelled doom for Arizona, as the Beavers routed the Wildcats 9-2 in game one.

Oregon State made hard contact early and often, amassing 14 hits, half of which went for extra bases.

After not surrendering more than 3 earned runs in any of his first 11 starts, Kent has done so in each of his last three starts. Thursday was also the first time Kent failed to reach the fifth inning this season, and allowed 5 earned runs on six hits over three innings pitched while only notching a single strikeout.

“The first inning, he looked dynamite,” Arizona head coach Chip Hale said of Kent. “He just ran into a buzzsaw.”

Most of the damage came in the top of the third. With two outs and a runner on second, designated hitter Gavin Turley put the Beavers on the board with a 2-run home run to left field. Then, Brady Kasper contributed a 2-run home run of his own, after which a walk and a pair of singles put Oregon State up 5-0.

The Beavers added on in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. In the top of the seventh, they only needed one hit to score 2 runs after a pair of walks and a wild pitch set up Turley with runners on second and third. His two RBI singles gave Oregon State a 9-1 lead.

“Tonight, I don’t think we played very well in any facet of the game,” Hale said.

Oregon State starter Aiden May did a great job of inducing weak contact from Arizona hitters and allowed 2 runs, 1 earned, on six hits over seven innings pitched.

“We didn’t put any barrels on the ball, they did,” Hale said. “The ball is gonna go here in this ballpark and you saw a lot of balls banging off the walls.”

Right fielder Emilio Corona took a 97-mph fastball to the hand in the bottom of the second. According to Hale, Corona’s hand quickly swelled and he was eventually pinch-hit for by third baseman Xavier Esquer in the bottom of the fourth. With Easton Breyfogle injured and limited outfielders available, shortstop Mason White took over center field duties, with Brendan Summerhill shifting over to right field.

Day 2: Friday, May 17

Game 2: No. 14 Arizona vs. No. 6 Oregon State at 6 p.m.

Oregon State was already leading 10-0 when Arizona scored its first and only run of the game in the bottom of the sixth. A bevy of costly errors and an uncharacteristic nine walks issued by Arizona pitchers doomed the Wildcats to a 16-1 rout in game two, temporarily giving the Beavers the Pac-12 lead and setting up a winner-take-all game three.

Oregon State had as many runs as hits, only needing three extra base hits to complete their domination of Arizona. Bazzana accounted for two of those extra base hits — a pair of doubles — 2 runs and an RBI.

Arizona starting pitcher Clark Candiotti, who threw a complete game shutout in his last start at Hi Corbett Field, had an off game against the Beavers and allowed eight hits and 6 runs, 4 earned, over five innings pitched. Candiotti wasn’t helped by his defense, which committed two errors in the first inning to put Arizona down 2-0 early. The Wildcats finished the game with four errors total.

Meanwhile, in a continuation of the night prior, Arizona’s offense struggled to make good contact all night, finishing the game with just six hits while amassing 13 strikeouts. Oregon State starting pitcher Jacob Kmatz allowed just 1 earned run on four hits while striking out eight.

In an attempt to preserve pitchers for the following night, first baseman Tommy Splaine pitched against a pair of Beavers in the top of the ninth, striking out Turley to retire the side.

Day 3: Saturday, May 18

Game 3: No. 14 Arizona vs. No. 6 Oregon State at 6 p.m.

Saturday night’s game was for all the marbles. An Arizona victory would clinch the Pac-12 regular-season title for the Wildcats. However, the University of Oregon’s victory over Washington State University earlier in the month meant that an Arizona loss would drop the Wildcats to third place in the conference.

Entering the bottom of the ninth, Arizona needed a run to keep its dreams of a regular season title alive. Oregon State had scored an inning prior when their No. 9 hitter, Jabin Trosky, hit a two-out RBI single to give the Beavers a 3-2 lead.

A Splaine hit by pitch and a four-pitch walk to pinch hitter Maddox Mihalakis brought Summerhill to the plate with one out and runners on first and second. On the 2-1 pitch, Summerhill launched a slider off the wall in right-center field. The throw from the outfield pulled the catcher up the baseline as Mihalakis slid safely into home, scoring all the way from first and earning a 4-3 Arizona victory.

“We just never give up,” Summerhill said. “It’s a belief [that] we can do it. We know what we have. We know that we can rally together as a group and beat anyone in the country.”

As Mihalakis touched home, players raced from the dugout to pile-on a backpedaling Summerhill in the outfield. The 4,949 fans in attendance at Hi Corbett Field erupted, issuing a standing ovation and singing “We Are the Champions” as the team celebrated on the field. During his post-game interview, the team surprised Hale with a Powerade bath.

“I’m really proud of them,” Hale said. “There’s so much fight in that dugout the whole game. And why not be a walk-off? We’ve been doing it all year and Summerhill’s been a part of a lot of them. I told John DeRouin standing next to me, ‘he’s going to hit one in the gap.’ And I was right for once in my life.”

According to Hale, none of this would have been possible without starting pitcher Cam Walty who, aside from a pair of runs allowed in the third inning, was dominant. He allowed more than one baserunner in an inning just once over his 8.1 innings pitched, striking out eight without issuing a single walk. According to Walty, his cutter was his go-to pitch all night. It was about as perfect a senior night as the senior from Elk Grove, California could’ve asked for.

“I didn’t get to spend the moment with my parents before because I was warming up,” Walty said. “For them to fly all the way down here to see that, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

The two teams traded leads early. Arizona scored first when an Adonys Guzman groundout was good enough to bring Garen Caulfield home in the bottom of the second. A half inning later, Oregon State took the lead on an RBI double from Bazzana and an untimely error from center fielder Casey Hintz, who is usually a relief pitcher but was forced into outfield duty after injuries to Corona and Breyfogle. In the bottom of the sixth, Caulfield scored Richie Morales from third on a sac fly to tie the game 2-2.

“We weren’t giving up runs. We weren’t booting balls,” Hale said. “That’s one of the things we’ve talked about all year. There’s an immaturity to our team because we’re young. There’s times where the emotions get too much of you and that’s just part of growing.”

From there, Arizona failed to cash-in on multiple scoring opportunities. Andrew Cain flew out to strand runners on second and third in the bottom of the sixth. Then, Summerhill grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and second in the bottom of the seventh.

Meanwhile, after Oregon State took the lead in the top of the ninth, reliever Anthony “Tonko” Susac induced a fly out from Bazzana that prevented any further damage. Bazzana finished the series going 7-for-14 with five doubles, 5 runs scored and two RBIs. Saturday might’ve been his best game of the series, with Bazzana contributing three hits and an RBI, but Arizona was able to limit his damage and keep him from blowing the game wide-open with a home run.

Questions will be asked about whether Oregon State head coach Mitch Canham should have kept his closer, Bridger Holmes, in to start the ninth after having already pitched the seventh and eighth innings. By the time Joey Mundt, who had a 1.69 earned run average on the season, entered the game, Arizona already had runners on first and second.

As the team gathered for pictures with the championship banner, Corona was yelling “ninth place,” in reference to where the Wildcats were picked to finish in the Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll. Oregon State was picked to finish first in the same poll.

For Arizona, the victory salvaged an otherwise horrific series, in which the Wildcats were outscored 28-7. The Wildcats had built up enough of a lead earlier in the season, including a 10-game conference win streak, that they only needed to win one of the three games against Oregon State to secure the Pac-12 regular-season title. However, they’ll have to play more consistent baseball if they’re going to win the Pac-12 Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“They’re a very good team,” Hale said of Oregon State. “We’re really proud to have beaten them tonight to win the conference, but we’re going to see them this weekend in [Scottsdale]. We’ll be staying in the same hotel so we’ll see a lot of them.”

Looking ahead:

Arizona will travel to Scottsdale, Arizona next week for the Pac-12 Tournament. As the No. 1 seed, Arizona will play No. 9 University of Washington on Wednesday, May 22, and No. 6 University of California, Berkeley on Thursday, May 23. Both games start at 7 p.m. The semifinal games will be played on Friday and the championship game will be played on Saturday.


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