The Arizona Wildcats improved to 7-0 in 2017 with a 12-3 win over the McNeese State Cowboys on Saturday.
Once again, the Cats did trail early, falling behind 1-0 after two innings, but then things started to turn.
Arizona tied it up in the third thanks to a Jared Oliva double, his fifth of the season. He only had four in all of 2016.
“He’s under control in his ABs,” head coach Jay Johnson said about Oliva so far this year. “He’s very committed to his plan, and he’s not coming off of it. He’s putting good, healthy swings on the best pitches of each at bat and that’s a good job by him.”
“I’m swinging at better pitches this year that’s allowing me to drive the ball into the gap better,” Oliva added. “I’m getting better pitches to hit, and this is just the end result of the process.”
The Wildcats then broke things open in the fourth.
The first three batters of the inning reached base on a double, walk, and then a costly throwing error by the third baseman on a Cameron Cannon bunt that allowed those two runs to score, and put the freshman on third base.
Ryan Haug followed that with a sac fly to left, making the score 4-1.
Three batters later, Cal Stevenson knocked an RBI single to right, making it a 5-1 ballgame.
McNeese got one back thanks to a solo shot in the 5th, but Arizona came back with three more runs in the sixth.
Mitchell Morimoto hit a one-out single to right. Stevenson and Oliva added back-to-back triples to the frame, making the score 7-2.
A JJ Matijevic sac fly pushed the lead to 8-2.
After taking the seventh inning off, the Wildcats’ bats went back to work in the eighth.
With the score 8-3, Arizona loaded the bases with no one out, and brought in Alfonso Rivas as a pinch-hitter against the submarine-throwing Avery Fliger.
Rivas promptly took a pitch right back up the middle, driving in two more runs and getting the Cats to double digits. Cesar Salazar tacked on the 11th run of the day with another single past the pitcher’s ear.
Matt Fraizer drove in the 12th and final Arizona run with, you guessed it, a single up the middle.
Rio Gomez made his second start of the season, and put up another good performance. He lasted 5 1⁄3 innings, surrendering six hits and two earned runs while striking out five. Gomez did not walk a batter and threw 49 of his 68 pitches for strikes.
“I thought he held his stuff longer this outing than he did last week, which was great,” Johnson said about the lefty’s performance. “I thought he was down in the zone for the most part, and made more good pitches than bad pitches, and we were rewarded for it.”
“It was just a lot of location early on,” Gomez added about what worked this week. “Getting out of jams with good defense behind me made a big difference.”
“It’s fun,” he added about being a starter now as opposed to a reliever. “I like it when I don’t have to live on the unexpected; when to get in the pen and not get in the pen. I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity and keep it going.”
Cody Deason, who struggled mightily against Eastern Kentucky, took over for Gomez in the sixth and redeemed himself a bit — at least for the first couple of innings.
In the eighth, he started losing bite on his fastball, resulting in a couple of hard-hit singles and a run scored by the Cowboys. Deason recovered nicely though, ending the frame with an overpowering strikeout of McNeese’s nine-hole hitter.
“We changed some things in his catch play and his throwing program,” explained Johnson of Deason’s improvement. “I think it really paid off, so that’s important. We’re going to keep running him out there — we need him — and he’ll be out there again soon.”
Austin Schnabel threw a perfect ninth to close out the 12-3 victory.
Arizona and McNeese State wrap up their four-game series on Sunday at Noon MT in Hi Corbett. No starting pitchers have been announced, but Arizona is in a good situation pitching-wise, especially with Sunday being the fourth game of the weekend.
“We put a lot of thought into this,” Johnson said of not only starting Gomez on Saturday, but the entire weekend plan. “We’re in a pretty good spot, particularly at the end of the game. We’ll have our best guys available and kind of work backwards from there.”
“That’s because of the guys that have pitched this series,” Johnson added about being in the good spot. “And the offense doing a good job, being able to stretch out each game has set us up well. A lot of people contributing.”