And they did it in a way that not many were expecting.
SHSU head coach Matt Deggs went with a freshman in Kyle Backhus who had only started four games all year instead of his All-American Heath Donica.
“We have some really good depth on the bump, and I liked the matchup with some of those lefties,” Deggs said. “And to be frank with you, this is a program that’s unafraid to crash and burn, I can tell you that, and we showed up here to make some noise and we felt like here Heath Donica would give us our best chance going against whoever won that first game, and that second game in most tournaments is always the most important game, and it’s a good feeling having our best guy on the mound.”
Donica will indeed start on Saturday against Texas Tech in the winners bracket game. It will come after the Bearkats used six different pitchers on Friday night.
“It’s very tough,” Arizona right fielder Cal Stevenson said about having to face six different guys in this particular situation. “They threw a lot of guys that have some great arms out there and you have to adjust to it quickly. If you don’t, they’ll get you like they did tonight, so I think it was just very tough for us to adjust to and they made the right moves.”
U of A knew that they would likely see Johnny Whole Staff once they found out that Backhus was starting.
“No question,” Johnson said if he foresaw the game going the way it did. “You had to think they were going to match it up, and Matt did a really good job with that tonight. They were prepared, we were prepared, and if you look at it, games like this are going to come down to one play.”
That one play was a home run by Robie Rojas, a three-run jack that put Sam Houston State ahead for good.
“Coming in we discussed that he was going to go soft away and then try to come hard in, and that’s exactly what he did,” Rojas explained of that at bat against Arizona ace JC Cloney. “He went changeup away and fastball in so I had a feeling he would go changeup away again, but he ended up going breaking ball and he just left it up.”
Now Arizona will look to rebound quickly, scheduled to start their elimination game just 13 1⁄2 hours after their postgame meeting ended.
“You can’t win the tournament tomorrow,” Johnson said about what his message was to the team in that extended postgame meeting. “Just try to play great in the first inning tomorrow and you have to compartmentalize it.”
“But really, when you get into a losers bracket situation, it’s not even about baseball anymore. It’s about competitiveness, it’s about togetherness, and one thing we will do for the duration of our time together is we will be extremely unified, tough-minded, and we’re going to compete extremely hard and that’s what we’re built on.”
“I wish it was first pitch right now. Call Delaware up, get ‘em out here, keep the lights on, and go for it. You can’t look at it any other way.”