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Arizona baseball blows by UMass Lowell to open 2019 season

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

On Friday night, Arizona baseball defeated the UMass Lowell River Hawks 12-4 at Hi-Corbett Field to open the 2019 season.

Prior to the game, Arizona honored and retired the jersey of Trevor Hoffman, the Hall of Fame closer who played shortstop during his college days for the Wildcats. When Hoffman ended his career in the big leagues, he was Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in career saves.

The Wildcats were able to ride a solid start from junior ace Randy Labaut (1-0) and some big hits from their freshman class, particularly Austin Wells, to claim the victory.

In his first start since undergoing leg surgery last season, Labaut went five innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits and one walk. The hard-throwing lefty set the tone early, as he recorded two strikeouts in his 1-2-3 top of the first inning, and other than a rough patch in the fourth, cruised through the River Hawks’ lineup, retiring the side in order three different times.

Labaut only needed 70 pitches to get through the outing.

“I thought he did a good job, I started him tonight thinking his experience would benefit us” said UA coach Jay Johnson. “I liked the thought of being able to keep his pitch count down. It’s a long year and Randy is a critical part of our team. I thought this would be a good time to take him out early.”

Labaut enjoyed immediate run support from his offense, as the Wildcats jumped on UMass Lowell starter Nick Rand for four runs in the first inning. Junior Matt Fraizer tripled to lead off the frame and was eventually driven in on a fielder’s choice from Nick Quintana.

The next batter, freshman Austin Wells, extended the lead to 4-0 by crushing a mammoth homer to center in his first career at bat as a Wildcat. Arizona never relinquished the lead.

“I definitely wasn’t thinking about it,” Wells said. “I was just trying to stay focused on what we had been working on all spring and fall. I was fouling off pitches and was able to connect on one.”

Defensive errors from Arizona allowed the River Hawks to get an unearned run in the second inning, but Labaut was able to limit the damage until the fourth when he was roughed up for two more runs to make it 4-3.

That was the closest UMass Lowell would get, as the Wildcats scored six runs over the course of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to blow things open. Fraizer and Cameron Cannon each recorded an RBI, while freshman Brenden Boissiere knocked in two runs in the bottom of the fifth to make it 8-3. Wells came through with yet another RBI in the sixth to bring it to 9-4.

Senior righty Cameron Haskell came in to relieve Labaut to start the sixth inning and was effective in his relief appearance, allowing only one run in four innings. He struck out four batters while allowing three hits and two walks.

“I wanted to stay out there longer,” Labaut said of his shortened start, “but sometimes you got to place the needs of the team above your own. Next man up. It worked out tonight.”

Arizona added to their lead in the eighth inning to make it 12-4, after Oregon transfer Matt Dyer tripled in Quintana and sophomore pinch-hitter Tate Soderstrom drove in two more runs.

Haskell saw it out from there, throwing a shutout ninth inning to seal the win.

It was a perfect beginning to the season for the Wildcats, who got a good start on the mound from their ace, solid relief out of the bullpen and production from a couple of their freshmen, who drove in six of their 12 runs.

Wells was particularly effective, as the freshman first baseman went 3 for 5 in his college debut, with four RBI and the homer in the first inning. He was a triple shy of a cycle.

Preseason All-Americans Quintana and Cannon went 1 for 5 and 2 for 4, respectively. Sophomore Dante Williams went 2-3 with two doubles and two runs scored.

“It was great to see these guys play,” Johnson said. “This team has worked extremely hard and has prepared very well, so it wasn’t a surprise to see them do good tonight. There was a lot of excitement with opening night but there was a very professional feel to how they approached it.”

The Wildcats will look to claim two more victories Saturday, as they host UMass Lowell in a double header, beginning at 1 p.m. MST.

Postgame interviews

Here’s UA baseball head coach Jay Johnson after Arizona defeated UMass Lowell 12-4 to open the 2019 season

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, February 15, 2019