The Arizona Wildcats and McNeese State Cowboys were tied at five heading into the seventh-inning stretch with UA looking for the series sweep.
Then things got weird.
Ricky Ramirez, who started the game at center field for McNeese State, had pitched the sixth inning, but returned to center for the start of the 7th.
But after a Jared Oliva 3-2 double and a Cameron Cannon sac bunt, Arizona took the lead on a squeeze play by Kyle Lewis.
“Great two-strike at bat by Jared,” Jay Johnson explained afterwards. “And then we were gonna pinch hit possibly there if we didn’t have a baserunner or only a man at first off the sidearmer — get one our left-handed hitters in there — but Cameron put down a great drag, advanced him over, and the squeeze by Kyle Lewis.”
That gave Arizona a 6-5 lead with no one on and two down in the inning.
But the floodgates opened up right there.
A Cal Stevenson double and Mitchell Morimoto single made the game 7-5, but also resulted in McNeese trying to bring Ramirez to the mound from center for the second time on the day.
This lineup switch had everyone confused and the umpires conferencing in the visiting team dugout. But this game was also already under time constraints due to the Cowboys’ flight itinerary.
“They just needed clarification,” Johnson explained. “I knew we were up against the travel curfew too, so it was a little confusing too with that going on, so finally I just said let ‘em do whatever they want, I just wanted to get the inning over with the lead.”
“That’s kinda different, you don’t see that every day,” Oliva, who is Arizona’s center fielder, joked afterwards. “But that’s their approach to try and win an ballgame, so we might have to take a couple notes from them.”
“No, but that’s something that Coach Johnson would do,” Cesar Salazar added. “I’ve never played against somebody like that.”
Ramirez coming in wasn’t really effective. Alfonso Rivas walked, JJ Matijevic singled, and then they intentionally walked Nick Quintana to bring up the left-handed Salazar with the bases loaded.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Salazar said if them intentionally walking Quintana gave him any extra motivation. “Seeing that he got intentionally walked, I got a little pumped, and then it helped me focus a little more.”
This was the second time Salazar had faced Ramirez in the game.
“I knew he was gonna come with a slider because he had thrown me five straight sliders the at bat before,” Salazar explained. “I wanted the at bat because I knew I was going to get that pitch. I got it — it wasn’t the best swing, it wasn’t the best contact — but everybody got the job done.”
Among the weird things that had happened, the pitcher prior to Ramirez, Collin Kober, was in right field for the first time in his college career. So Salazar’s little looper dropped right in front of Kober, allowing two runs to score, and making it a 10-5 game.
“I had no idea the pitcher was there,” Salazar admitted. “I was just waiting for that slider.”
After Salazar’s hit, Oliva followed with a two-run double to left, making the score 12-5.
The game was then called after the top of the eighth due to time.
Rivas had started this game on the mound for Arizona, and for the second straight week, he was kind of the victim of some bad luck early.
“I try to relax him by joking around with him on the mound,” Salazar said of what he was doing to keep Rivas positive. “He’s been pitching really good, but like you said he hasn’t had the best of luck, but he’s going to keep pitching a lot and he’s going to be doing good.”
The sophomore left-hander only recorded two outs on the day, getting charged with one earned run (three total). He’s now given up nine runs this year with just the one earned run.
“We just gotta keep working,” Johnson explained. “He’s got great poise, great maturity, and he impacted this game after he was taken out as the pitcher and did a good job.”
Also in the first inning, starting shortstop Louis Boyd was hurt going for a short blooper in left, laying on the ground for several minutes afterwards.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Johnson said afterwards. “I’ll check. He plays hard, and guys that play hard get nicked up every once in a while. They got a regimen going in the second inning and we’ll evaluate him tomorrow.”
Boyd and Morimoto were both going for the ball, but it didn’t appear like they actually collided.
“I didn’t even see it,” Johnson added when asked about it. “It looked like to me he just hit the ground hard.”
Arizona is technically back on the field Tuesday against the NC Dinos in an exhibition game at 3 PM MT at Hi Corbett. The next game that counts will be on Friday as part of the Frisco Baseball Classic. The Wildcats will open that event with Arkansas at 3 PM MT.