LUBBOCK, Texas — In what was anticipated to be a battle of aces, the Arizona Wildcats were the only ones that drew that particular card.
JC Cloney took the hill for the Lubbock Regional after what amounted to three hours of lightning delays on Friday, and he was pitted against Sam Houston State Bearkats freshman Kyle Backhus rather than All-American senior Heath Donica.
Backhus lasted just 3 1⁄3 innings compared to Cloney’s seven. But as poker players know, sometimes aces don’t win no matter how good they look.
Sam Houston really approached this one like the last game of a Regional, throwing Johnny Whole Staff at the Wildcats. Six different Bearkat pitchers contributed to the cause on Friday/Saturday, and Sam Houston State walked away with a 5-4 win because of it.
It was a game of missed opportunities for the Wildcats. Despite getting 13 hits and three Sam Houston errors, Arizona only plated four runs thanks in large part to getting just two hits in its first 11 at bats with runners in scoring position. 11 Wildcats were stranded on base in total.
After tying the game at one in the third, it appeared Arizona had taken the lead on a wild pitch. However, after the umps conferenced in the infield, it was determined that the ball hit Jared Oliva in the toe as he was swinging, which prevented the runners from advancing.
That left Jay Johnson unhappy, and the next play made him even angrier. Alfonso Rivas grounded into the shift on the right side, but when the second baseman rifled the ball over to first, it appeared the first baseman missed the bag. Rivas was called out, and Arizona failed to take the lead.
The very next inning, the Wildcats had another chance. With two runners on, Sam Houston State brought Dakota Mills out of the bullpen.
Kyle Lewis welcomed Mills to the game with a single to right. Nick Quintana headed for home from second, but was cut down by about a step and a half for the second out of the inning.
Mills induced a foul out down the left field line to end the threat and keep the score tied.
It looked like Sam Houston was going to ride the momentum from that, picking up a leadoff double from Hunter Hearn in their next at bat. But Hearn was erased on a spectacular pickoff play from Cesar Salazar and Louis Boyd. Cloney would follow that up with a pair of strikeouts, his fourth and fifth of the night.
Once again, Arizona had another scoring chance after this. With runners on first and second and no one out, Oliva stepped to the plate. After failing to bunt his first time up, Johnson had the center fielder swing away.
Unfortunately, the SHSU third baseman made a spectacular diving play towards the line, touched his bag, then rifled across to first for the 5-3 twin killing, essentially squashing any threat.
The Bearkats took a three-run lead on a long ball by Robie Rojas in the top of the sixth, but the Wildcats appeared to try and answer right back thanks to a leadoff triple by Ryan Haug.
Salazar would drive in his fellow catcher with a groundout, but that only cut the lead to two.
Sam Houston got right back out to a three-run advantage. The Bearkats opened the 7th with a shift-beating single (probably the fourth of the night), a sac bunt (something Arizona couldn’t do), and an RBI single to left by Taylor Beene.
That run ended up being pretty big because the Wildcats plated two in the bottom half of the seventh. But a failed squeeze play with Haug killed all momentum the team had and left U of A down one with two innings left.
Michael Flynn came on and hurled two scoreless for the Wildcats to keep it a one-run game, but the bats just couldn’t come through when they needed to.
Arizona had runners in scoring position in each of the final two frames, but couldn’t bring across the tying run.
Quick Hits from Texas Tech/Delaware
This game really turned on a double play in the sixth inning. With a run already across for Delaware to cut the deficit to one and two guys on with no outs, the Blue Hens lined a ball that probably should have gone screaming past third baseman Josh Jung.
However, Jung had other plans and snagged the ball, and while falling to the ground flung it to second to get the double play and essentially end the threat.
Tadlock on Josh Jung's DP in T6.— Andrew Doak (@AndrewDoak_KAMC) June 3, 2017
"It's pretty much like you take a deep breath and you're like 'whoosh.' Is that kinda what you did too?" pic.twitter.com/2JHLuzLshG
It was 3-2 at that time, and Texas Tech’s Orlando Garcia would ease a home run just over the left field fence in the 8th to make it 5-2, which wound up being the final score.
“I thought we were very fortunate,” Tech head coach Tim Tadlock said afterwards. “Sometimes you’re better off being lucky than being good.”
This game started on time, but a lightning delay halted play for about 90 minutes in the second inning. Texas Tech pulled starting pitcher Davis Martin after the stoppage, but Delaware stuck with Ron Marinaccio, who ended up going 6 1⁄3 innings for the Blue Hens.
“We kept a heating pad on him,” Delaware head coach Jim Sherman explained of how they kept Marinaccio warm during the delay. “We just weren’t at that time limit where we had to make that call, and Ronnie probably wouldn’t have let me take him out — even after two hours — so that probably made my decision a little easier to be fair to him.”
Tadlock did say that Martin could be used on Sunday if the Red Raiders need to.
Tallahassee Regional Update
Lubbock is paired with Tallahassee, and, well, things did not go as planned in Florida. Both one-seed Florida State and two-seed UCF lost on Friday, setting up a 3 vs. 4 winner’s bracket game between Auburn and Tennessee Tech.
If Arizona were to advance out of Lubbock and Auburn or Tenn. Tech would get out of Tallahassee, the Super Regional would be in Tucson.
Around the Pac-12
- UCLA lost to Texas 3-2 to end up in an elimination game in Long Beach tomorrow.
- Stanford won easily on Thursday, but lost to Cal State Fullerton 4-1 on Friday and will now face BYU in an elimination game before potentially facing the Titans again on Saturday night.
- Oregon State was playing at the same time as Arizona.
Saturday’s Lubbock Regional schedule looks a little something like this if there’s no weather issues:
- Elimination game: Delaware vs. Arizona (2 PM CT, Noon PT), Watch ESPN
- Winners bracket game: Texas Tech vs. Sam Houston State (6 PM CT, Noon PT), Watch ESPN