After dropping four consecutive Pac-12 games, the Arizona Wildcats have now taken the first two of their three-game series against the USC Trojans, clinching the weekend with a 5-1 decision. This makes both teams 4-4 in conference play to this point, which makes them tied for fourth in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats fell behind 1-0 early, but were able to erase that in the bottom of the third.
Louis Boyd drew a one-out walk, and moved up to second on an Alfonso Rivas single.
That brought Jared Oliva to the plate, and he was able to tie things up with a two-out single to left center.
“For my money he’s one of the best players in college baseball right now,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said of his centerfielder. “In terms of the value he adds to our team and defensively, character thing. I hate saying this because it’s gonna sound like he’s the teacher’s pet but if I had a kid and you could tell me he could be like one of these people, Oliva would be the guy I would choose.”
The inning comes to an end, but not before we claim the lead, highlighted by this RBI single https://t.co/0LL0rKwpPH— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) April 2, 2017
Arizona took the lead after this on a wild pitch.
When the same chunk of the order came up again in the fifth, more of the same happened.
A Boyd walk led to him scoring on another Oliva RBI single. But this time, JJ Matijevic added to the damage, blasting a poorly located pitch off of the top of the intimidator board in right field.
Make that 5-1 after a MONSTROUS #MatijevicMash! https://t.co/IUL1si6sFU— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) April 2, 2017
“I was struggling early in the game,” Matijevic said. “I was pulling off balls and missing pitches that I don’t usually miss.”
“Coach Johnson — after my second AB — had a talk with me in the dugout to just stay simple and remember the time that I was my best, and I just did that the next AB and I did what I did.”
“It was a changeup,” continued Matijevic. “Changeup up and out and just stayed on it, didn’t pull off, and I did well.”
These big hits all came with two outs in the inning. Arizona was 4-for-10 in such situations, while USC was hitless with two down. The Trojans were also just 1-of-12 with runners on base.
Randy Labaut got his second career start on Saturday night, and things were kind of shaky at the beginning. The redshirt freshman walked the first USC batter, and then gave up an RBI triple to Lars Nootbaar which put the Trojans up 1-0 about five minutes into the game.
“I was just trying to get settled the first inning and I kind of fell behind the first couple hitters and I just got back to my routine,” Labaut added. “I just kind of settled in after that. I just couldn’t find my zone the first couple hitters.”
After the triple, Labaut only faced 19 hitters over the ensuing 5 2⁄3 innings. His final line was an absurd 6 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 4 K, and the 1 ER.
“If he can fit into that type of role, it’s really going to make our team better,” Johnson said. “It’ll solidify some things on the back end of the game and it’ll make us stronger than we were early in the season. So it’s a big-time shot in the arm we got from him since we started Pac-12 play.”
“My off-speed was really good,” Labaut added about what was working for him. “I found my changeup and my curveball in some counts were pretty effective.”
“He just gave up that one hit to Lars, but he stuck to it and stuck to his plan well,” Matijevic tacked on about Labaut’s performance. “He executed his pitches and he did outstanding. I’m really proud of our pitchers tonight.”
Cody Deason took over from there and kept the one-hitter in tact.
“I think he got to a place where he demanded more of himself in terms of preparation and in terms of expectation of what he was going to put into being as good as he can be,” Johnson said of Deason’s recent improvements. “His stuff is there...I’m not totally surprised, it’s a great progression and that’s what we want all our players to do.”
“It brings a lot of confidence to our team seeing them do that,” added Matijevic. “Seeing them be successful against a pretty good lineup against USC it just brings confidence to us and that our lineup can stick to our plan and score some runs for them and they’re gonna do their job too.”
Usually, Deason (or any other Arizona reliever for that matter) would have struggled in the ninth of a game that was pretty much decided, but not on Saturday.
“That ninth inning was exactly what I wanted to see,” continued Johnson. “There was no attachment to it, it was just boom, boom, boom, boom, and next thing you know we’re high-fiving.”
Arizona will look for the series sweep on Sunday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1 PM PT, and the Wildcats will start Rio Gomez on the mound. USC will counter with Marrick Crouse.
“We’re in a great spot for tomorrow’s game comparatively,” Johnson said of the pitching situation for Sunday. “This is a good offensive team — they have a good record and have done some things — you can’t take anything for granted.”