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The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball eliminated from NCAA Tournament after back to back losses

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Mason Kumet
Arizona catcher Adonys Guzman tries to tag out the runner sliding into home against Dallas Baptist during the Tucson Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament on June 1 at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona would lose the game 7-0.

Two weeks ago, Arizona engineered an unlikely walk-off victory after falling behind against Oregon State University in the Wildcats’ regular-season finale to win the Pac-12 Championship. 

Last Sunday, May 26, the Wildcats fell behind again in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game against USC but once again found a way to pull off a walk-off win. Throughout the season, Arizona had developed a habit of digging themselves into holes only to miraculously come back and win in the later innings. Many of these victories came at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, where the Wildcats executed eight walk-off wins during the season.

However, the Cardiac Cats’ magic finally ran out in the Tucson Regional where the Wildcats were eliminated after dropping back-to-back games to Grand Canyon University and Dallas Baptist University. In both games, the Wildcats’ best starting pitchers struggled while their bats stalled, with Arizona scoring just 4 total runs between the two games.

Day 1: Friday, May 31

Game 1: Arizona vs GCU at 6 p.m.

In front of a record 8,798 in attendance at Hi Corbett Field, clutch hits for the Antelopes and a lack of late production from Arizona’s offense allowed GCU to pull away and win game one of the Tucson Regional 9-4.

“We didn’t play very well tonight,” Arizona head coach Chip Hale said. “They played well. They made the plays. They made some real hard ones and we just didn’t.”

The turning point came in the top of the sixth. With Arizona leading 3-2 with two outs and the bases loaded, GCU right fielder Eddy Pelc worked a two-strike count before smacking a Clark Candiotti fastball to deep center field. Brendan Summerhill took a step in before retreating toward the wall but was unable to catch up to the ball, which fell for a bases-clearing double that gave the Antelopes a 5-3 lead

“It looked like [Summerhill] broke in and tried to get back there,” Hale said. “I think when you’re trying to do too much sometimes, that’s what happens. Bases are loaded, you want to make a big play to save the game.”

GCU entered the game holding a 2-1 record against Arizona on the season, though all three of those games had been midweek contests with the Wildcats starting bullpen arms. This was the first time the Antelopes got a look at Candiotti, Arizona’s Saturday night starter throughout the season.

“We’re playing with house money,” Pelc said. “I think that there definitely was some familiarity with playing U of A, so we had a ton of confidence coming in. We were comfortable but we knew it was going to be a dogfight.”

In an unusually sloppy performance, Candiotti issued a season-high five free passes via three walks and a pair of hit-by-pitches. After allowing a home run to Tyler Wilson on the second pitch of the game and another run in the second inning, Candiotti settled in with three straight hitless innings before the disastrous sixth. 

“The walks and hit batsmen are not things that have been typical of us,” Hale said. “We’ve been better strike throwers. We knew the strike zone was tight.”

GCU was able to add on 4 insurance runs after Candiotti left the game despite Arizona only allowing four more hits. In the top of the ninth, Zach Yorke’s 2-run double was the Antelopes’ only hit of the inning.

“We’ve been tough at the plate to strike out,” GCU head coach Gregg Wallis said. “We’ve been tough with two strikes. I thought we were just laying off some borderline pitches that we got called in our favor.”

GCU starting pitcher Grant Richardson was effective in working his way out of trouble against Arizona’s lineup, only giving up a single earned run over six innings despite allowing five hits and four walks. Richardson induced two key inning-ending double plays while also striking out five Arizona batters.

“It started with Grant doing great on the mound,” Wallis said. “I told the boys after the game, I’m proud of them not because of what the scoreboard said after the game, just because of the way we went about it. We went about it with some intent to play great baseball and we did it.” 

After taking the lead, GCU used starting pitcher Isaac Lyon to relieve Richardson. Lyon proceeded to shut down Arizona’s lineup over three scoreless innings, striking out four while allowing just two hits. 

Arizona capitalized on a pair of walks and singles to create 3 runs in the bottom of the second. Senior right fielder Emilio Corona hit into a fielder’s choice to score one of the runs in his fist at-bat since fracturing his hand against Oregon State. Corona played well in the field but struggled to produce at the plate, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

“[Corona] won’t be 100% until next year,” Hale said. “He’s battling and doing the best he can […]. He’s a leader on the team and we’ve got to give him a shot to be out there.”

The loss meant that the Wildcats would have to win four straight games if they wanted to win the Tucson Regional, a tall task against the stiff competition of a post-season tournament.

“When we were in the chase for the conference title, we were constantly in that position and that feeling,” Mason White said about facing an elimination game. “So I think this group’s got a really good feeling of just playing furiously, playing with your back against the wall and things like that. So we’re not scared.”

Day 2: Saturday, June 1

Game 2: Arizona vs Dallas Baptist

A sea of arms hung over the Arizona dugout railing as Richie Morales’ fly ball fell harmlessly into the glove of Dallas Baptist right fielder Alex Pendergast. At 3:46 p.m., on a sunny, 100-degree day at Hi Corbett Field, the Wildcats’ impossible season ended. Arizona players hugged one another as Dallas Baptist’s dugout emptied in celebration of surviving another day.

Unlike the previous night, in which the Wildcats were victim of blooper shots, defensive misreads and too many free passes, Dallas Baptist’s win over the Wildcats was dominant. Jaron DeBerry shut down Arizona’s hitters for six innings, throwing 118 pitches in the process. Tom Poole mashed two home runs on consecutive at-bats that plated 4 runs. Dallas Baptist accumulated 12 hits to Arizona’s five. In just about every statistical category, the Patriots simply outplayed the Wildcats for nine innings during their 7-0 victory.

The source of Arizona’s woes can partially be attributed to back-to-back rough outings from their best starting pitchers. Cam Walty, the hero of the regular season finale against Oregon State and the Pac-12 tournament title game against USC, allowed a season-high 6 earned runs over just four innings pitched.  

“It wasn’t the same crisp stuff that we’d seen,” Hale said. “Cam had the arsenal to really battle these guys well. He just didn’t have his good cutter today. You saw when Kyler [Heyne] came in, he was able to really use his cutter, and same with [Tony] Pluta, to neutralize them. He just didn’t have it today and that happens.”

When Hale arrived at the mound to pull Walty from the game following a second home run for Dallas Baptist, he took a moment to thank his senior starter and give him a hug.

“I just thanked him for everything he’s done,” Hale said. “The infielders all and of course Adonys [Guzman] was out there, the catcher they all told him, ‘we would not be here without you and thanks for gutting it out today.’ I just gave him a big hug. These guys, I asked them before the game, let’s just go out there for two and a half, three hours and just everything you’ve got, give it to me. Give it to this club. Give it to this university today and see what we can do. It didn’t work out but they did the best they could.”

Both Dallas Baptist home runs came off the bat of designated hitter Poole, who drove in 4 runs and put Arizona into an insurmountable hole.

“These zones for the regionals have been tight,” Poole said. “So we’re going to use that to our advantage and really get him over the middle of the plate and just get a pitch we can drive. In that first at-bat, I found that I didn’t really get all that much. In the second at-bat, I definitely made the adjustment and just went after it.”

Arizona had a few chances to score on DeBerry, getting runners in scoring position in the first, fourth and fifth innings, but failed to capitalize by the time DeBerry, who finished with six strikeouts, left the game due to a high pitch count after the sixth inning.

“We knew that it’s a very aggressive team,” DeBerry said. “They have a few guys with some power but they like to get their swings off. So early on, if I can land my breaking ball like I did, that establishes everything and makes it a lot easier to go deep into the games whenever they have to think about five different pitches coming at them instead of just a couple.”

Heyne and Pluta, two of Arizona’s best relievers all season, pitched two scoreless innings a piece with no hits. Anthony “Tonko” Susac, who earned his way into the closer role after struggling as a weekday short starter earlier in the season, got two quick outs in the top of the ninth before allowing an unnecessary insurance run off back-to-back hits. In the bottom of the inning, the Wildcats got another runner in scoring position off an Easton Breyfogle walk and Corona single before Morales’ fly-out sealed their fate.

According to Hale, the team never gave up.

“Even in the ninth inning today, guys screaming and yelling for guys to get a hit,” Hale said. “I was so happy for Emilio [Corona] to get a hit after the tough hand fracture and getting back in there. That kind of summarizes this ballclub. They’re just never gonna die and I’m really proud of them.”

Hale and Garen Caulfield both reflected on what the team achieved in the game and on the season. 

“I’m glad we had our last game here. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to but I’m just super thankful,” said Caulfied, a fifth-year junior, before breaking down into tears, leading Hale to give him a pat on the back. 

“I’m going to look back at this season as a major success,” Caulfield said. “Not only for the guys in the clubhouse but for Chip and the university as a whole. We were doubted all year and to make it as far as we did, we can walk away from Hi Corbett today saying that this year is successful. We’d like it to end different and our goal is obviously to win a national championship here every year, but we can’t hang our heads because we were doubted, picked to finish 9th in the [Pac-12] and our boys rallied.”


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