The Arizona Wildcats and Washington State Cougars entered their three-game series this weekend with the two worst ERAs in conference play.
So of course we were treated to an old-fashioned pitchers' duel on Friday night.
Arizona's Nathan Bannister and WSU's Ian Hamilton would go toe-to-toe for the majority of the night, but it would be Bannister who would win the battle, having his longest and most dominating outing in an Arizona uniform. The Wildcats would eventually win by a score of 8-0.
Bannister struggled early, loading the bases before even recording an out in the first inning. But after a mound visit from Dave Lawn, the senior lefty struck the next two batters out, and induced a fly ball to left to end the threat.
"He was just pretty much 'What the heck is going on?" Bannister explained of what Lawn said to him. "He pretty much made me smile. Just like, come on, you're better than this. Just make your pitch, and that's it."
"The game sped up a little bit, and I just need to do a better job of making my pitch rather than rushing and making bad pitches."
From there, he was dominant. Bannister ended up allowing just four more baserunners in the ensuing seven innings. The eight innings, 130 pitches, and seven strikeouts were all single-game career highs for the senior.
"As good as it gets," Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said of Bannister's start. "It was important because we were going against a real guy tonight, a guy that's going to pitch in the big leagues. He just got stronger as the game went on."
"I just told a joke to the team that when he came in to my office and introduced himself, to me he looked like a 38-year-old with a beer belly and three kids," Johnson joked of Bannister's physical improvement. "Now that's a Major League body right there. When you invest and you put in the time, that's what happens."
"It was needed," Bannister said of that meeting. "When I met with him in the offseason, I knew that was one of the things that needed to change, especially if I wanted to help this pitching staff the way I need to."
Arizona's senior is now 4-0 at home, with a 0.83 ERA in those six appearances, five of which are starts.
As good as Bannister was, Hamilton was just as good while he was in the game.
No runs were put up on the board by either team until the fifth. Justin Behnke led the inning off with a walk, and Cody Ramer followed that with a single to right. Both of them would move into scoring position after a nice sac bunt by Jared Oliva, where it looked like he beat the throw to first, but was called out.
Cesar Salazar hit a grounder to the shortstop, but Behnke scored while Ramer was thrown out at third for the second out of the frame.
The next inning would bring about more Arizona runs. Zach Gibbons roped a pitch the opposite way for a leadoff double, and was joined on base by Alfonso Rivas, who drew a walk.
Bobby Dalbec, hitting 7th in the order on Friday night, was asked to put down a sac bunt, and after one poor attempt, got it down to move both runners into scoring position.
WSU lifted Hamilton for Scotty Sunitsch, and Arizona would counter by pinch-hitting for JJ Matijevic with Kyle Lewis.
"A couple things," Johnson explained of the decision. "Kyle's hot, and I felt like he could stay inside one and drive it out there."
The Cougars had their outfield playing way in against Lewis, and he made them pay, smacking a ball over the right fielder's head for a one-run double, putting two guys in scoring position.
"Honestly I didn't," Lewis said when I asked if he saw the outfield playing in. "When I hit it I thought it was just a sac fly and it just kept going. I saw the guy turn his back and I was like I'll take that."
Then, in typical Arizona form, Behnke laid down a two-strike squeeze bunt, scoring Rivas from third to make it 3-0.
Lewis finished the night 2-for-2 after going 2-for-4 Monday against BYU. He hadn't really played much before this week, and is now 7-for-15 this season at the dish.
"That guy's awesome," Johnson said of his junior. "He's been ready for his opportunity. We don't win the BYU game on Monday without him playing the way he did. He's a ballplayer."
"It feels great to be able to help the team win," added Lewis. "All I can really control is being prepared to come into a game. Whatever it takes."
Washington State's bullpen struggled to finish the game out, allowing runs in each of the final four innings. A Ryan Aguilar sac fly scored another run in the seventh, then the wheels came off in the 8th.
Three walks and a couple more Arizona hits, including a two-run single from Salazar led to the lopsided final score.
Michael Flynn pitched a perfect ninth for the Wildcats
These two teams meet again on Saturday night at 6 PM at Hi Corbett. JC Cloney is expected to start for the Wildcats against the Cougs' Ryan Ward.