When Oregon shortstop Josh Kasevich misplayed a grounder with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, it looked like just another play that went in Arizona’s favor. It turned out to be one of the biggest moments of the game.
The grounder off the bat of Arizona’s Kobe Kato scored Daniel Susac to give the Wildcats a 5-1 lead, and they needed every bit of that edge to beat the Ducks 5-4 on Friday night at Hi Corbett Field.
A 3-run home run by pinch hitter Anthony Hall pulled Oregon within one with no outs in the top of the ninth, the blast coming on the first pitch thrown by senior right-handed Vince Vannelle after Preston Price allowed a walk and a single to start the inning. Vannelle recovered to get the next three batters, striking out Garrett Matthews looking to end the game for his fourth save.
“Great poise by Vince after giving up the home run,” UA coach Jay Johnson said.
Arizona (15-6, 2-2 Pac-12) record 16 strikeouts on the night, including a season-high 11 by starter Daniel Susac. The sophomore righty improved to 4-0 with 6.2 innings of one-run, three-hit ball.
“That was a special effort tonight,” Johnson said, noting the importance of having a strong pitching outing in the series opener. “You really need someone to set the tone.”
Since allowing 10 runs in 4.1 innings against Oklahoma on March 4 at the Frisco College Baseball Classic in Texas, Silseth has given up just 13 hits and four earned runs with 25 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. He said he learned the importance of pitch location in that Frisco outing.
“It doesn’t really matter who you play … when you leave pitches for hitters to hit, they’re going to hit them,” Silseth said.
The UA took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third on an RBI double from Donta’ Williams and a run-scoring single up the middle from Jacob Berry.
Oregon (11-5, 2-2) pulled within 2-1 on a 2-out single by Tanner Smith in the fifth, but the Wildcats got that run back in the bottom of the frame on an RBI groundout from Williams. Kato led off the inning with an infield single, moved to second on a sacrifice and to third on a wild pitch before coming home.
Silseth, who threw 103 pitches, was pulled with two outs in the seventh after a hit batter and a walk. Riley Cooper came in and induced what should have been an inning-ending groundout to second but Kato booted it, loading the bases for Oregon slugger Kenyon Yovan.
That set the stage for Price, who seems to be contractually obligated to enter games with runners in scoring position, and he struck out Yovan on a 2-2 slider to end the threat. Price stuck around for the eighth, striking out the side around a 2-out walk to give him 28 punchouts in 14.2 innings this season, before running into trouble in the ninth.
The Wildcats got two insurance runs in the eighth, with Susac hitting an RBI double and later scoring on the Oregon fielding error. It was the first unearned run allowed this season by the Ducks, who committed two errors after having only three in their first 15 games.
Arizona and Oregon play their second game Saturday at 3 p.m. PT. A win would secure a fourth straight series win over the Ducks.