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Pitching carries Arizona baseball in season-opening win over Ball State

arizona-wildcats-baseball-ball-state-cardinals-2021-opener-hi-corbett-pac12-higlights-recap Mike Mattina / Arizona Athletics

Before the 2020 season was cut short in mid-March, Arizona’s pitching had shown so much improvement over the previous year it gave the Wildcats a chance to really make some noise in the Pac-12.

One game into 2021, that pitching looks like it’s going to be the strength of this team.

Four UA pitchers combined on a five-hit shutout, striking out 14 Ball State batters in a 3-0 win on Friday night at Hi Corbett Field. It was the third season-opening shutout Arizona has logged in six seasons under coach Jay Johnson.

“They can’t win if they don’t score,” Johnson said. “For as many games as we’ve won 14-10 it was nice to win one 3-0.”

Sophomore Chase Silseth, a transfer from College of Southern Nevada, struck out seven in 5.2 innings with three walks and two hit batters in his UA debut in front of roughly 20 MLB scouts. He couldn’t escape the sixth after hitting two batters to load the bases, but senior Preston Price came on and threw three straight sliders to strike out Ball State’s Aaron Simpson with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Price struck out four in 1.1 innings, then junior Ian Churchill fanned one in two-thirds of an inning before senior Vince Vannelle added two more in the ninth to earn the save.

The 14 strikeouts represented the 12th time in 16 games Arizona has had at least 10 punchouts since hiring pitching coach Nate Yeskie, including the first 10 games of 2020.

The stellar pitching performance made up for a fairly unimpressive performance at the plate. Arizona managed just five hits and stranded 10 batters, unable to take advantage of nine walks issued by Ball State pitchers.

Freshman Mac Bingham was the only Wildcat with a multi-hit game, recording two singles from the No. 9 slot.

“We’re just gonna get better,” Johnson said. “I have no concerns. We walked a ton tonight. Really good hitters don’t swing at balls.”

The UA scored twice in the bottom of the first on a 2-out, 2-run double by sophomore Ryan Holgate that one-hopped wall in right center, scoring sophomores Kobe Kato and Branden Boissiere. Arizona would make it 3-0 in the fifth on a bases-loaded groundout by Boissiere but couldn’t take full advantage of the chance as freshman Daniel Susac grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

Johnson believes Arizona could have broken the game open in the third had it been a little less aggressive. With runners on first and second and none out, Kato flew out deep enough to left to advance junior Donta Williams to third with one out, but sophomore Jacob Blas tried to move to second but was thrown out to stop any chance of a rally.

“We had them on the ropes there in the third inning,” Johnson said. “Jacob tried to make a play.”

Other than the sixth, Ball State’s only other real scoring threat came to open the seventh. Or at least it thought it had one when pinch hitter Decker Scheffler tripled to the wall in right-center, but it turned out Scheffler missed the bag rounding second, and Arizona appealed to get the out.

“That was a smart-guy play, as we call it,” Johnson said, noting that Arizona’s dugout helped spot the miss at second.

Arizona and Ball State play the second of their four-game series at 6 p.m. MST at Hi Corbett Field. Like all games this season, at least for the time being, no fans are allowed to attend.