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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball earns series win despite slipup

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Chad Zavala

It wasn’t always pretty this weekend for the No. 4 Arizona baseball team, but in the end, the Wildcats left Salt Lake City with another Pac-12 Conference series victory and a spot atop the conference, as Arizona took two of three from Utah.

“It’s a great feeling,” catcher Riley Moore said about leading the Pac-12. “We all know that we should be — we know that we’re a really great team.”

Arizona (23-9, 9-3 Pac-12) didn’t make the weekend easy against a Pac-12 bottom-dweller in Utah (8-22, 4-8), losing a wild game on Friday 7-6 and then blowing a seven-run lead on Saturday.

But talent eventually prevailed as the Wildcats took their fourth straight conference series.
“You want to win every series, that’s kind of the goal in the Pac-12,” UA head coach Andy Lopez said. “Nobody is an easy weekend.

“We’ve been able to accomplish that,” Lopez added. “Obviously we would have liked to have gotten three wins — and we kind of gave a game away (Friday), but that’s going to happen with young people at times.”

Arizona easily handled the Utes on Thursday, winning 11-2 behind the arm of junior Kurt Heyer as the team recovered from an uncharacteristic loss to Utah Valley the night before.

The offense dominated Utah on Thursday, piling on 19 hits as all nine starters had at least a hit on the night. Moore said the offense has just been sticking to its game plan — hitting the ball hard on the ground.

“(If we’re) doing that our offense won’t stop, it’ll keep rolling,” Moore said.

And Arizona has been clicking on all cylinders as of late — the Wildcats have put up at least four runs in every one of its last 14 games and they averaged more than seven runs a game during that stretch. So when the Wildcats jumped out to a 5-2 lead Friday, another Pac-12 series victory looked all but guaranteed.

But Utah finally figured out starter Konner Wade, who went 6.2 innings with seven hits and five earned runs, and the Utes tied the game at five after seven innings.

Moore quickly broke the deadlock with a two-out single in the top of the eighth to drive in designated hitter Bobby Brown, but Moore was about to turn from hero to goat.

With two outs and a man on first, reliever Stephen Manthei struck out Utah’s Biss Larsen, but the freshman catcher couldn’t handle the pitch and had an errant throw to first base to keep the inning alive as thing quickly spiraled out of control.

“It was all on me … It was a big circus on my part,” Moore said. “The game got really fast on me, I played really immature.”

After the Wildcats recovered Moore’s wild throw, they caught Larsen in a rundown between first and second base but decided to throw the ball to third base instead to try and pick off Utah’s Gavin Green.

Larsen was safe at second but Green was forced to run home for an apparent inning-ending out, but the freshman catcher dropped the throw and allowed Green to score and Larsen move safely to third. The next Utah batter then doubled off Manthei to bring in Larsen and secure a wild 7-6 victory over Arizona.

“We’ve definitely played cleaner baseball,” left fielder Johnny Field said, “but I’d take our defenses over a lot of (other) defenses. They make some plays that nobody else really can. So to see something like that happen, it is rare.”

The Wildcats stormed out to an early 7-0 advantage on Saturday, but like the night earlier they couldn’t sustain the lead and Utah battled back to tie the game at seven.

Starter James Farris’ last start was a dominant performance against No. 6 Stanford, but he struggled Saturday going only four innings with eight hits and five earned runs.

“(Saturday) we didn’t really pitch as well as we’ve been pitching in the conference,” Lopez said. “We pitched OK to average.”

Arizona responded with four unanswered runs to beat Utah 11-7 with Moore contributing on three of the final four runs.

The weekend wasn’t as clean as the Wildcats would have expected after sweeping Stanford the weekend prior, but Field said it wasn’t a case of overlooking an opponent.

“I don’t think we took it easy at all,” Field said. “I think (going against Arizona) boosted their level of play up. All of the smaller teams, they are going to play us tough considering the record we have and the high ranking.”

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