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Arizona baseball: Wildcats open Pac-12 play with series win over UCLA Bruins

That’s certainly one way to start conference play

Cesar Salazar and Cal Stevenson celebrate
Rachel Huston

After getting shutout by Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, the Arizona Wildcats were looking to get the bats going for the rest of their L.A. trip against the UCLA Bruins.

And they certainly did just that.

The Wildcats are now 2-1 in Pac-12 play after taking a series from UCLA in Jackie Robinson Stadium in what turned out to be a two-day, three-game affair.

Friday’s opener was postponed in the third inning due to fog. Nick Quintana hit a “triple”, and that’s when the umps decided that enough was enough.

So the two teams picked things up from there on Saturday afternoon when things were sunny again.

Arizona stuck with JC Cloney on the mound, while UCLA decided to give Griffin Canning a day off and restart him on Sunday. And just like usual, when a team goes to its bullpen, the Wildcats took advantage.

The Cats scored three in the third, four in the fourth, and five in the fifth en route to a 19-4 blowout win. Cloney ended up recording five innings of work, with Luke Soroko and Robby Medel each getting in two innings apiece.

Saturday’s second game was much more competitive. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead off of Michael Flynn in the first two innings, forcing Arizona to lift him for Randy Labaut.

But Labaut answered the bell, throwing 4 23 innings of shutout baseball, surrendering just two hits and three walks along the way.

Arizona tied things up at three in the top half of the sixth inning. Alfonso Rivas, JJ Matijevic, and Jared Oliva all picked up RBI hits in the inning to take Flynn off the hook for the loss.

Cameron Ming took over on the mound in the 7th, and kept the string of zeroes going for the UCLA bats. Then in the 9th, Quintana and Cesar Salazar each picked up two-out singles, and Kyle Lewis walked to load the bases for Cameron Cannon.

The freshman from Glendale grounded to short, but the throw got away, allowing pinch-runner Matt Fraizer to score and give Arizona the 4-3 lead.

Ming pitched a one-hit 9th, but kept the Bruins from tying the game back up, clinching the series.

Much like Flynn on Saturday, Rio Gomez got off to a pretty sluggish start on the mound on Sunday. UCLA plated a run in the first thanks to a couple hits, an error, and a balk.

But things settled down, and the lefty held the Bruins scoreless through the sixth inning.

Arizona’s bats picked up Gomez in the third and fourth innings, scoring a pair of runs off of Canning in each of those frames to grab a three run lead. Cannon and Rivas each had RBI hits in the third.

Another run scored on an error in the fourth, then a Lewis sac fly made it a 4-1 ball game.

In the seventh, Gomez started tiring a bit, and gave up a two-out, two-run homer to Ryan Kreidler, drawing the Bruins within a run. It was also a funny moment because Rio’s dad Pedro was sitting with the Kreidler family when that happened.

Arizona’s pitcher responded by recording a strikeout looking to end the frame and send the game to the 8th, where the Wildcat offense would further respond.

Quintana led the inning off with a bomb down the left field line, extending the lead back to two.

And Salazar made it back-to-back jacks by roping one over the wall in right center. It was his first career HR and chased Jon Olsen off the Bruin mound.

Ming took over for Gomez in the 8th, looking to close out the game, but UCLA wasn’t going away quietly.

After loading the bases with one out, pinch-hitter Zander Clarke worked his way back from an 0-2 count to make it full, then lined a single just to the left of Quintana at third, scoring two runs, making the score 6-5.

Using a nasty slider, Ming got a strikeout for the second out of the frame, then got another K with a pitch in the dirt being chased.

The Wildcats tacked on an insurance run in the 9th. With runners on the corners and one out, Oliva lifted a short fly ball to right. Rivas broke for home from third, and both he and the ball arrived at the catcher at the same time. The two players collided and the ball bounded to the backstop, allowing Rivas to score and giving Arizona the 7-5 edge.

But in the ninth, Ming would be unable to shut the game down. On his 45th pitch of the game, and 88th over 24 hours, he allowed a two-run, two-out single to right with the bases loaded, tying the game at seven.

Jay Johnson brought in Landon Faulkner from the pen with the winning run standing on third. Faulkner induced a lineout right to the second baseman Canning — who was standing almost directly behind Faulkner — sending this one to extra innings.

Arizona got two on in the top of the tenth, but Rivas flew out to deep center to end the threat after UCLA put Matt Walker on the mound to face him.

Rivas then took the mound himself in the bottom half of the inning. After letting a runner get to third with one out, Rivas let go a wild pitch, allowing the game-winning run to score, ending the series in pretty disappointing fashion for the Wildcats despite winning two of three in Westwood.

Arizona is back in action on Tuesday when they host the New Mexico State Aggies for a single midweek game. First pitch is scheduled for 6 PM PT at Hi Corbett. Then the Wildcats will travel to Corvallis for a three-game series against the Oregon State Beavers, who are 3-0 in conference play after sweeping ASU, and could be ranked No. 1 in the country when the new polls come out on Monday.