Usually when a Wildcat and an Antelope do battle, things end pretty quickly.
But on Wednesday, the Arizona Wildcats and Grand Canyon Antelopes battled for all nine innings, with Arizona coming out on top 3-2 to improve to 17-7 on the season.
The Wildcats scored all of their runs in the fourth inning.
After falling behind 1-0 in the top half of the inning, a one-out double by JJ Matijevic and a couple of walks loaded the bases for Shane Martinez, who was making his first career start.
Martinez also walked, scoring Matijevic and tying the game at one.
That brought Cesar Salazar to the dish with the bases juiced. The sophomore catcher smacked a single to left-center, giving Arizona a 3-1 lead.
Grand Canyon tried its best to rally back in the top of the fifth.
After the two first Lopes hitters were retired by Seve Romo, a Louis Boyd error allowed Marc Mumper to reach base. This was the last batter Romo would face, as Jay Johnson put Alfonso Rivas on the mound.
Rivas would give up a walk and a one-run single, which got him replaced by Landon Faulkner.
The junior college transfer induced a hot shot right back at him, but was able to get his glove on the ball, and tossed it over to Matijevic at first to end the threat and keep the Wildcats in front.
“It was just instincts,” Faulkner said about getting his glove up in time. “I saw the first bounce, and I saw it was coming right at me so I got my glove up and glad I put leather on it. It had top spin on it so it might’ve got me in the chest but I’m happy I got my glove up in time.”
Faulkner actually ended up having the longest outing of his Arizona career, pitching the final 4 1⁄3 innings. He did not allow a single baserunner.
“I want to give him a big kiss,” Johnson joked afterwards. “That’s what I think about that.”
Numbers-wise, Faulkner had been struggling a little bit, but he has arguably the best stuff on this pitching staff when its working.
“We’re working on some mechanical things with him,” Johnson said about Faulkner on Tuesday, prior to this Wednesday outing. “To get the ball what we want it to do or to do what it was doing earlier in the season. He’s shown some flashes.”
“I think its more than the mechanical part of it, it’s the intent part about it and what he’s doing with his pitches,” Johnson elaborated on Wednesday. “I mean, he’s my height, and you’re not gonna survive unless you think you’re a tough dude and you can get after it.”
“He shortened up his arm in the back a little bit which allowed him to get his release point a little more consistent,” coach continued. “So a combination of mentality and a slight adjustment was awesome to see.”
“The difference for me was stay within myself, not be too fast with my lower body,” Faulkner explained about what he changed. “It was able to let me get on top of the ball because when I was too fast with my lower body, my arm was flattening out and I was dragging, but tonight I just stayed within myself and it worked.”
His previous longest outing had been a two-inning appearance against Oregon State the previous weekend. Faulkner was charged with three earned runs on four hits in Sunday’s game.
“Their stuff is all in there, but it’s a matter of getting it out consistently,” Arizona’s head coach added about Faulkner as well as Tylor Megill and Romo. “Hopefully they can help us piece together 81 outs if you will on the weekend.”
“I think we figured some things out today with him,” Johnson said on Wednesday night. “You can’t get any better than that. He’s such a competitor.”
“I know Sunday it didn’t look like it, but I felt like I did a lot better and it was a confidence booster,” Faulkner added about his confidence level on the mound recently. “During my practices this week I’ve just been working hard on it and it showed out there today, so I’m pretty stoked about it.”
Arizona also saw the return of Louis Boyd on Wednesday after missing four and a half weeks with a torn UCL in his non-throwing elbow.
“The only thing I won’t be able to do is throw left-handed to my kid,” Boyd joked about deciding on not getting Tommy John Surgery after the season’s over. “I’m okay with that.”
The decision was dependent on how the senior did in Tuesday’s practice, and to Coach Johnson, it was like watching Ozzie Smith out there.
“In one practice, it was clear how much we were missing him,” coach said. “We had a coach pitch scrimmage, so balls were getting torpedoed at him and he was picking ‘em, a lot of what you saw tonight, which was great to see.”
The original timetable was six weeks, but it ended up only being four and a half.
“The start is just a waiting game. You have to wait until you can extend your arm and thankfully that happened quicker than most,” Boyd explained of his recovery. “After that it was just rehab, get the strength up, so all credit to (the training staff) for why I’m out here so early.”
Boyd found out he was playing Wednesday afternoon when he walked out of the dugout for warmups.
“Just looked at the lineup, I was there, and just another day of being in the lineup.”
It may have been just another day in the lineup, but it led to more confidence among all the other players too.
“Oh my gosh it’s just great having a mature middle infielder back in there,” Faulkner explained. “K-Lew (Kyle Lewis) did a great job taking his place, and having Boyd back directing everything in the whole infield just makes a big difference.”
“Just age itself is a big thing,” Boyd explained of his leadership role. “Regardless of skill, younger guys look at older guys because they have their business under control, and I think it might just calm a couple of the freshmen down a little bit, and if they have any questions they can come and ask me.”
Boyd was sporting a brace on his elbow which he’ll have to wear for likely the rest of the season to help keep that joint in place.
“Keeps my elbow in one plane so I can’t do the throwing motion on the left side if like a ball takes me to that side or on a swing if I get overextended,” Boyd said of the brace’s function. “It’s just there for stabilization.”
Arizona returns to action on Friday night when they host the USC Trojans. First pitch is scheduled for 7 PM PT at Hi Corbett. JC Cloney will likely start for the Wildcats.