In front of a record crowd of 8,067 people, the Arizona Wildcats evened their series against the Arizona State Sun Devils with a 4-2 win. It also moves the Wildcats (32-17, 15-11 Pac-12) just half a game back in the Pac-12 standings thanks to Saturday losses by both Utah and Washington.
The game had its moments of performance art thanks to two analytics-minded guys captaining their respective ships.
"There's no where else on the planet I'd rather be," Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said about going head-to-head with Tracy Smith in a strategy war. "The atmosphere, I live for that kind of stuff. We pride ourselves on being really good in one-run and two-run games, and we really have the back half of the season."
"It was a blast."
JC Cloney got the start for Arizona, and continued the scoreless streak for Arizona pitchers into the 8th of this one. Between him and Nathan Bannister, the Sun Devils went 15 innings without scoring a run.
The Arizona scoring started in the fifth.
ASU flipped outfielders with runners on second and third and one out. The goal was to put the better-throwing Daniel Williams in right field with the left-handed hitting Cody Ramer up to bat.
But it backfired, as Ramer went the opposite way with a sac fly, forcing the weaker throwing Gage Canning to try and get Cesar Salazar at home. The Arizona catcher beat the throw by inches, putting the Wildcats up 1-0.
Zach Gibbons then found Williams back in left field with a single, scoring Behnke to take a 2-0 lead.
Things got weirder in the next half inning.
Ryan Aguilar picked up an outfield assist on a force play at second base. Then Cloney did this:
An eventful top of the 6th inning to say the least: https://t.co/oYNT3Ezbtr.— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 15, 2016
"I personally have not," Cloney said if he had ever picked a guy off standing up. "I don't know if I've ever seen a guy picked off like that before. It's another one that's confusing but I'll take it."
Then after committing his first throwing error in forever on Friday, Bobby Dalbec almost overthrew JJ Matijevic again, but the sophomore leaped up to get the final out in a weird inning.
"The baseball gods were on our side that inning," Cloney continued. "Two hard hit balls, and they both turned into outs, so we'll take what we can get."
Arizona tacked on another run in the bottom of the sixth. Aguilar led the inning off with a seeing-eye double. He advanced to third thanks to a Matijevic sac bunt.
Kyle Lewis, who had a nice weekend last week, picked up the RBI with his second single of the night as the Wildcats' DH.
A Louis Boyd squeeze play made it a 4-0 Arizona lead.
The Cats could have added to their lead in the seventh. Gibbons led the inning off with a walk. However, he tried to tag up on a fly ball to right field, and was thrown out at second. Of course, Aguilar followed that with a double to deep right-center that would have scored Gibbons from first.
Aguilar was left at second, keeping the score 4-0.
ASU would cut the lead down a run right away, thanks to a Sebastian Zawada home run that cleared everything in right field.
Zawada was making a homecoming of sorts, having attended high school at Catalina Foothills before going to South Mountain CC for two years, then moving on to ASU.
The Sun Devils weren't done scoring in the 8th. A pair of two-out singles chased Cloney from the game, forcing Arizona to bring Dalbec onto the mound from third base.
In his first game pitching since his knee infection, the junior righty struggled a bit, allowing an RBI single and a walk to load the bases.
That brought up Andrew Snow, and on a 2-2 count, Dalbec got out of the bases loaded jam.
ASU escaped their own bases loaded jam in the 8th. Two walks and a ground out brought Behnke up with runners on second and third. The Sun Devils then made a bunch of changes, bringing in pitcher Reagan Todd to play left field, but not really. Tracy Smith immediately put him behind the first baseman to have five infielders for a likely squeeze situation.
"It was something I'd never seen before, that's for sure," Behnke said after the game. "It took 'em awhile to get it set up, but once they finally got it set up, I just stepped in the box like I normally do. It didn't really change anything for me. Just visually it looked different."
"I had no clue," added Behnke about the pitcher coming in to be the fifth infielder. "I was just sticking with my approach."
"I thought Behnke was going to kill somebody right there," Johnson continued. "That was neat. I was thinking that was like Todd Graham putting nine guys in the box and RichRod whipping up some kind of play."
"I was wondering who drew that play up," Cloney tacked on about the formation. "I have never seen that in my life. I was confused, but I was just happy I wasn't the one at the plate to figure out what was going on."
"I just, I don't know. It was so confusing."
It didn't matter, as Behnke walked anyway.
"I was kinda hoping Behnke would line one so we could get it by both of 'em," Cloney continued. "That would have been a good story to talk about, but a walk's as good as a hit."
So the pitcher, Todd, went back to left, but then switched places with the right fielder, similar to what happened in the fifth. Ramer struck out for the second out of the inning. Gibbons came up, and with the outfield playing in, got one deep into right. But the catch was made by the pitcher of all people, leaving the bases loaded.
ASU got the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Dalbec was able to end the game and even up the crucial series.
The rubber match will go down on Sunday at 3 PM PT. ASU will pitch Jordan Aboites, and Arizona will likely throw either Cameron Ming or Kevin Ginkel. The game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks, but you should really be at the game instead.