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2016 Tony Gwynn Classic: Arizona drops opener to Tulane 11-10

The Wildcats were on the wrong end of a boxing match on Friday

JJ Matijevic went 3-for-5 with an RBI in Arizona's loss on Friday
JJ Matijevic went 3-for-5 with an RBI in Arizona's loss on Friday
Jason Bartel

SAN DIEGO, CA -- The Arizona Wildcats and Tulane Green Wave were trading blows the entire afternoon on Friday in the Tony Gwynn Classic, but it would be the Green Wave that would land the final blow, taking the game 11-10.

"It was fun," Zach Gibbons said after the game. "It was kind of like a boxing match, going blow for blow. Unfortunately we came out on the bottom of it, but we'll get 'em tomorrow."

"We're both trading blows," Ryan Aguilar added. "It's just like who can get hit the hardest, and who come back with a harder punch."

In total, there were five lead changes in the game, but strangely enough, Arizona never led at the end of an inning. Tulane was always countering.

"It seemed like every time we'd score, they would answer right back, and that's the sign of a good team," Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said of Tulane after the game. "And our guys did the same thing too."

The Wildcats had their chances to create bigger leads, but failed each time. They left ten men on base. Tulane stranded just three.

"Had our chance there at the end to extend the lead and maybe put the pressure in their dugout, but we weren't able to do it," Johnson added. "We left some runs on the table, and that won't go unnoticed."

Earlier in the day, Tulane head coach David Pierce short of foreshadowed this game and what would happen when talking about this Arizona squad.

"I know Jay's got 'em going, and they're gonna play aggressively," Pierce told me. "It'll be a tough challenge."

Arizona landed the first punch, coming out of the gate with a three-run first off of stud Tulane pitcher Corey Merrill. Gibbons hit a ground-rule double, then Ryan Aguilar followed that up with a two-run double of his own. JJ Matijevic drove in a third run on a single to right off the second baseman's glove.

Tulane countered with a four-run bottom half of the inning. The first five Green Wave batters all reached base off JC Cloney, including an absolute bomb from Hunter Hope.

Nathan Bannister would come on in relief in the first inning, and both he and Merrill settled in until the fourth inning.

Gibbons would drive in one of Arizona's two runs in the inning, giving the Cats a 5-4 lead.

"They were leaving it up in the wrong counts," Gibbons explained. "I was getting my foot down and putting a good swing on it."

He would finish the game 3-for-4. Alfonso Rivas and JJ Matijevic also had three hits apiece.

As was the case every time Arizona scored, Tulane countered right back. They were able to score two in the bottom half of the fourth. to retake the lead.

The same thing happened in the sixth. Arizona put two runs on the board, but left two guys on as Bobby Dalbec struck for the fourth time on the day.

The seventh rolled around, and the Wildcats tied the game up at ten with three two-out runs. Again, Dalbec came up, and again he struck out, leaving the bases loaded, and obtaining the rare platinum sombrero with his fifth strikeout of the game.

He also took the loss on the mound, giving up a run in the eighth inning, a home run off the bat of Jake Willsey. It was Willsey's second home run of the game.

"I think it's a classic case of everyone in the other dugout knows who he is," Johnson explained about his star's struggles early on. "He's getting pitched tough, and we've seen really good pitching so far."

Dalbec was dropped to the five-hole on Friday as part of a slew of lineup changes. But the players noticed a much better flow overall.

"I liked the lineup a lot today," Gibbons explained. "I feel comfortable with it. I feel like there was almost no gaps. You can't really pitch around a guy because you have the next guy to face."

The no gaps thing was certainly true. Dalbec was the only starter not to record a hit. He's now hitting .100 in 2016.

Arizona will play the loser of the Nebraska/San Diego game on Saturday. If Nebraska loses, Arizona will play them at 2 PM MT. If USD loses, Arizona will play them at 7 PM MT.

They also can no longer win the inaugural Tony Gwynn Classic, but that won't keep them down.

"Coach always says you know that today was Super Bowl Five," said Gibbons. "You gotta forget about it tonight, go home, have a clear slate and tomorrow's Super Bowl Six."