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Arizona baseball destroys UMass Lowell to sweep season-opening series

Matt Fraizer
Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Arizona baseball defeated the UMass Lowell River Hawks 20-5 on Sunday to sweep their four-game series and open the 2019 season at a perfect 4-0.

The Wildcats dominated the River Hawks over the course of the series, outscoring them 69-17 during the four-game set.

Much like the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Arizona fell behind 2-0 in the first inning of game four but were able to take the lead shortly after and never relinquished it.

The UMass Lowell starter Sal Fusco worked a 1-2-3 top of the first, but totally lost control of things in the second inning, issuing seven walks including three with the bases loaded. Amazingly, Fusco’s control was so bad that the Wildcats scored five runs before they even recorded a hit in the game.

Arizona’s first hit came from Preseason All-American Nick Quintana, who singled in two runs to make it 7-2 and to cap the scoring in the bottom of the second.

The Wildcats’ starter, freshman Quinn Flanagan, settled down after giving up the two runs in the top half of the first and didn’t give up another run before he was taken out of the game to start the fifth inning. He was relieved by sophomore Jonathan Guardado.

Flanagan made his debut for Arizona, three years to the day that he injured his arm during a high school game, which required him to undergo Tommy John surgery. It was his first pitching appearance in a competitive game since that day his junior year of high school.

“It’s been a long road back,” said UA coach Jay Johnson. “I’m really proud of him because there were some points along the way where we didn’t know if he was going to make it back. The expectation now is he is going to be a top-level division one pitcher.”

After gaining the lead, Arizona didn’t rest on their laurels offensively, adding three more runs in the bottom of the third inning, another run in the fifth and sixth innings and truly turned the game into a laugher by plating five runs in the bottom of the seventh and three more in the bottom of the eighth.

Junior outfielder Matt Fraizer continued his strong play out of the leadoff spot, finishing 4 for 7 with six RBIs. Johnson praised Fraizer’s “evolution as a hitter.”

“We’re all about development here,” he said, “I give Matt a lot of credit. He didn’t have a good fall, results wise, but he kept with it, made some swing adjustments and trusted the process.”

Preseason All-American Cameron Cannon notched his sixth double of the year and added an RBI in the third, while freshman Ryan Holgate continued to put on a show offensively, driving in five runs and smacking his third home run of the season. Holgate has now homered in three consecutive games for Arizona.

Austin Wells, Dante Williams, Tate Soderstrom and Jacob Blas added an RBI each.

Quintana had his best game of the season so far, going 3-3 with 2 RBIs and 2 walks.

It was a good sign for the Wildcats to see Quintana back to his best on Sunday. He had good at-bats and put the ball in play during the first three games against the River Hawks, but just couldn’t seem to really get going.

Johnson was adamant on Saturday night and again on Sunday that he was never worried about his star third baseman, calling him “one of the best players in the country”.

Arizona’s bullpen wasn’t as good on Sunday as it had been in the first few games of the series, coughing up three runs in the seventh inning, but the game had long been over by then and the runs the River Hawks got back had no effect on the outcome of the game.

Johnson was happy with the sweep to start the year but acknowledged that there is still much to do for the Wildcats to be at their best.

“I thought the character we showed was good,” he said. “We work on mindset 365 days a year and this was their first opportunity to play in that character, so I was pleased with that. But we’re a division one baseball four games into the season and there are a lot of things we need to work on.”

Arizona will now travel to Texas on Tuesday night and will be back in action Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. MST when they take on the Rice Owls in Houston. The Wildcats will then stay in Houston for a three-game series against the Houston Cougars starting Friday.