In the second game of a three-game series against the College of Charleston, Arizona baseball was able to hold on to a narrow 7-5 victory over the Cougars on Saturday night at Hi Corbett Field.
Much like in game one Friday, which finished with the same score, the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead over Charleston and used a freshman pitcher to close things out in a tight situation down the stretch.
Cameron Cannon opened the scoring for the Wildcats in the top of the first inning, when he hit his nation’s best ninth double of the year to drive in Donta Williams. Austin Wells then drove in Cannon with a bloop single to left field to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
The Cougars answered with two runs of their own in the top of the second, but three runs over the course of the next two innings for Arizona, coupled with two insurance runs in the sixth, were ultimately enough to seal the victory for the Wildcats and improve them to 10-5 on the season.
Arizona’s starting pitcher, freshman righty Quinn Flanagan, was mostly effective in his outing, going six innings strong in his third start of the year.
The two runs that Charleston got off of Flanagan in the second inning were unearned, after Cannon made his 11th error in Arizona’s last 5 games.
The normally defensively apt Cannon, had been switched from shortstop to second base due to his recent struggles, but still had a hard time throwing the ball to first. His throwing error in the second proved to be costly once again.
“It’s been tough, mentally and physically,” he said of his recent defensive struggles. “I’m just going to keep working for my guys so I can be the best player I can be, and we can be the best team we can be.”
After the Cougars tied the score in the top of the second, Arizona regained the lead in the bottom of the frame when they took advantage of a throwing error from the Charleston pitcher and after Cannon doubled for the 10th time, to drive in another run. When Matt Dyer hit a sacrifice fly in the third, it was 5-2.
The Cougars got a run back when Logan McRae took Flanagan deep in the top of the sixth, but the home run was the only big mistake Flanagan made all night.
He was relieved by Randy Labaut to start the seventh, but still picked up the win, after finishing with a solid line of five hits, three runs, one earned run, no walks and four strikeouts in the six innings he pitched.
The two insurance runs that the Wildcats got in the bottom of the sixth ended up being the difference in the game and came via some classic Jay Johnson smallball. He double stole Dayton Dooney and Dyer, before calling a double squeeze for Tony Bullard at the plate.
Bullard laid down a perfect bunt, and when the ball was thrown to first the runner on second was able to come all the way around to score.
“It was great execution by Tony,” Johnson said of the play afterwards. “It was the right play at the right time, with the right runners on base. It was cool to see.”
At that point the score was 7-3 and the game was essentially over.
Charleston made it interesting in the end however, getting two runs off of Labaut, who started out well in his first relief appearance of the season, before he allowed a run in each the eighth and ninth innings.
After he allowed a double to score the run in the ninth and subsequently walked the next batter, to put runners on first and second with no outs, Johnson went to freshman George Arias Jr. to try to get the save and hold on to the win.
Arias Jr., who has been impressive to start the season, quickly got two outs, and when Nick Quintana made a great play on a hard-hit ball to third base, the Wildcats were able to hold on to claim their second straight victory.
Cannon ended up going 3-4 with two RBIs, while Williams continued to hit out of the leadoff spot. He is now hitting .667 since Johnson made the change in the lineup.
When asked afterwards how he felt about Arias Jr’s save and just the game in general, it was clear that Johnson was pleased with how his freshman and his whole team have been playing the last couple of nights.
“It was a very good performance,” he said, “and one that was very much needed.”
Arizona will look for the sweep over the College of Charleston tomorrow at 1 p.m. MST at Hi Corbett.