The Arizona Wildcats are off to a 1-0 start in 2017 thanks to seven dominant innings from senior left-hander JC Cloney.
Cloney and the Cats took down the Eastern Kentucky Colonels by a score of 6-0 Friday night at Hi Corbett.
After throwing sixteen consecutive scoreless innings in the 2016 College World Series, Cloney pushed that streak to 23 on Friday. He only allowed one hit on the night, and that was to the very first batter of the game, which was a double down the left field line.
“I left it right over the plate, belt high,” Cloney explained after the game. “I wasn’t expecting a swing first pitch but he got a good piece on it and put it down the line.”
“You should be ready to go from the start, and I just kinda missed middle when we were trying to go away on him,” continued Cloney. “From then on it was putting a little extra focus on it, but you should be ready from the start.”
“A guy nubs a first pitch down the line, and then poker face up,” head coach Jay Johnson said of Cloney’s performance. “Strikes in, out, up, down, changed speeds, that allowed us to settle in, and I liked that he was very efficient.”
Cloney threw just 74 pitches on the night, 57 of them for strikes.
“My offspeed was working better than my fastball, which was nice,” Cloney added about what made him effective. “We kinda went to that later just because I really couldn’t spot a fastball, but all in all, I think everything was working pretty well.”
He admitted to having a bit of nerves at the beginning of this game, which is why he thought that first pitch missed middle.
After that first batter, Cloney did not allow another hit.
“Every once in a while you look at the scoreboard and see, but you just kinda really focus in on that pitch, locating it, and putting it in a quality spot,” he said about knowing he was throwing a one-hitter.
The offense got things started in typical Arizona fashion right out of the gate. Left fielder Mitchell Morimoto was hit by a pitch to start the game, and was then moved up to second on a sac bunt by right fielder Cal Stevenson.
Jared Oliva capped off the outfield triple threat with an RBI single to left, giving Arizona the 1-0 lead.
“The whole goal is for me to get on, Cal to bunt me over, and Oli did his job and came through with a great hit,” Morimoto said about the opening sequence. “It really got us some momentum going there at the start of the game.”
Morimoto would score again in the third inning on an Oliva double play ball. Arizona’s left fielder finished the game 2-for-3 at the plate with the HBP.
“I’ve never really hit in the one-hole before, but yeah, I took it on, wasn’t nervous, embracing the moment and trusting Jay and the teammates behind me,” Morimoto added about batting lead off. “I’m just trying to do my job, have a quality at bat so the guys behind me can get me in any way possible.”
The main chunk of the offensive output came in the sixth inning. EKU put in Alex Hamilton in relief of starting pitcher Jack Piekos. Hamilton struggled with his command early, and also didn’t get the help he needed behind him thanks to an error by the shortstop to the start the inning.
JJ Matijevic followed that error up with a single to center, which brought up highly-regarded freshman Nick Quintana.
The freshman third baseman had been hitless in his first two collegiate at bats to that point, but roped a double down the left field line to bring in Oliva.
“I was a little nervous at first, but it was exciting,” Quintana said about his first game. “The first two (at bats) I had a little butterflies, as usual, like somebody should expect in their first college game. But after those first two at bats it was just like any other day at the park. It was comfortable.”
“We’re going to play guys here at Arizona who are very mature mentally,” Johnson said about Quintana’s poise. “It’s your first game in the big leagues so to speak, so I liked the fact that you try not to make too much of one pitch or one at bat, and he persevered and gave us two really good at bats.”
Kyle Lewis added an RBI of his own, stroking a single to right field.
With runners on the corners, Lewis took off for second, and when the Colonels catcher tried to gun him down, Quintana bolted home from third and score easily, giving Arizona a 5-0 lead.
After Cloney was removed, Seve Romo made his Arizona debut by striking out the side in the eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth, Arizona tacked on some more insurance. Cory Voss, who had been 0-for-3 in his Arizona debut, went the other way with a pitch on the outer half for a hooking two-out triple down the right field line to bring in Quintana.
Romo gave up a double to Daniel McFarland in the ninth, who ended up with EKU’s only two hits of the night. But McFarland was stranded on third base to end the game.
Arizona and Eastern Kentucky meet again on Saturday at 1 PM MT. The game was moved up from 6 PM due to impending weather. The Wildcats will start RHP Tylor Megill, and EKU will start Max Ford. Be sure to check out our series open thread for live updates and whatever you want.