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Arizona baseball recap: Wildcats crush Eastern Kentucky 18-4 to clinch series

Hit parade

JJ Matijevic celebrates after hitting a two-run home run in the second inning of Sunday’s win over EKU
Jason Bartel

The Arizona Wildcats’ bats got hot at the end of Saturday’s comeback victory over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, and they stayed on fire despite all the rain that came down on Sunday afternoon.

It was a rout from the start, and Arizona ended up taking this one by a score of 18-4, clinching the series, and starting the season 3-0.

“It’s how we’ve scored the 34 runs,” Jay Johnson said about what he’s liked about this offense the past two days. “First inning today is how you draw it up; a lot of patient at bats. There were a lot of good two-strike at bats, guys using the field, hitting with runners in scoring position, executing. We just haven’t thrown away very many at bats.”

The 34 runs are the most for Arizona in a two-game span since March 5th and 7th of 2008 vs. UNLV and South Alabama.

The Wildcats scored five runs in the first, which was highlighted by a two-run double by Cesar Salazar. Cameron Cannon also picked up his first career RBI with a single to left.

The lead ballooned to seven in the second inning thanks to a two-run bomb from JJ Matijevic.

“It was a fastball,” he explained of his homer. “Their pitcher wasn’t really commanding his offspeed, so I went up there looking fastball, got it the first pitch, stayed nice and slow to try to hit the ball up the middle, and that’s what I did.”

“Our coaches do a great job of getting scouting reports, and they had a good one today,” Matijevic continued. “And we executed as an offense.”

He is now 8-for-20 this year with 11 RBI. He’s also hitting .667 with runners in scoring position.

“I think he’s just improving,” Johnson explained of the junior’s early success. “I feel like he’s made gigantic steps. He made the big step from freshman year to sophomore year, and he’s making the same kind of step right now, which is great to see.”

“What I’ve been working on the most is staying relaxed and slowing the game down,” Matijevic added. “I’ve been doing that so far and I’ve been having some success.”

After two more runs in the third, Mitchell Morimoto called Matijevic’s two-run shot with one of his own, this one going over the left field wall.

“We haven’t really seen that much power from Mitch, but I knew he had it in him because he’s super strong,” Matijevic joked. “But yeah, we were all excited, jumping up and down in the dugout for him and happy for him.”

That gave Arizona an 11-2 lead at the time.

Morimoto and Cal Stevenson were flipped in the lineup on Sunday, with Stevenson moving up to the leadoff spot.

“It was just kind of a gut feeling for the lineup as a whole with how we wanted to split it up left and right,” Johnson said of the change. “With the pitcher we were facing, we didn’t want him to settle in.”

Five more runs came across in the fifth thanks to a three-run triple from Alfonso Rivas.

From there on, the Wildcats got several players game action for the first time this year, including Shane Martinez, Michael Hoard, Casey Bowman, and Sawyer Gieseke.

The sixth inning was the first that Arizona did not put up at least two runs, getting shutout by EKU pitcher Brandon Smither. They failed to score the rest of the way.

Not to be overlooked was the pitching performance by Rio Gomez. The junior lefty got the start on Sunday and threw five innings of three-hit baseball. He allowed three runs (two earned) on 80 pitches, 54 of which were strikes.

“He got us off to a good start, and after yesterday, that was important,” Johnson said about Gomez’s outing. “I thought he got a little tired at the end, but a lot of strike quality and he had three pitches working for the most part and did exactly what we needed him to do.”

“We’re set up great for tomorrow,” coach added. “Rio doing that really helped us out not only in this game but that’ll carry over to the next game. That was a big time performance from that standpoint.”

Notable stat lines

  • Cal Stevenson: 0-for-3, 3 runs, 1 BB. He is now 1-for-9 with 7 runs scored this year
  • Alfonso Rivas: 3-for-3, 4 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB
  • Nick Quintana: 1-for-2, 3 BB
  • Casey Bowman and Sawyer Gieseke: One single each
  • Cameron Cannon: 4-for-6, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI (HR shy of the cycle)

The four-game series wraps up on Monday morning at 10 AM MT. EKU has a 4:30 flight to catch, so that game will need to have the pace picked up a bit.