In the seventh inning of their Pac-12 opener Friday night, Arizona baseball trailed Utah 18-3.
In what ended up being a 21-10 loss to the Utes, the Wildcats were totally ineffective in all facets of the game. They couldn’t throw strikes, couldn’t field the ball and didn’t end up being able to get going offensively until the game as a contest had long been over.
It was one of the low points of the mostly good Jay Johnson era in Tucson, and fans, both at the park and online, voiced their frustration at what seemed to be a season trending in the wrong direction.
After dropping to 10-7 with the loss, to say that the Cats needed to respond in a big way was an understatement.
Well, over the course of two games on Saturday and Sunday, they got exactly the type of response they were looking for.
After Quinn Flanagan pitched the Wildcats to an 8-0 bounce back victory on Saturday night, Arizona defeated Utah 18-7 on Sunday afternoon at Hi Corbett Field, sealing their first series victory over the Utes since 2014.
“It tells you a lot about who they are,” Johnson said of his team, “when you have a bad loss like that it’s easy from the outside to make a snap judgement on people. Luckily, I get to see these guys every day. I’m not surprised at all.”
Much like in game one of the series, Utah was able to jump on Arizona’s starting pitcher — this time it was freshman Bryce Collins — early in the game, plating three runs in the first inning.
Unlike in game one however, the Wildcats were able to respond immediately, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first and then plating five more in the second to take the lead.
Matt Dyer got the scoring started for Arizona, driving in two runs in the first inning, before Donta Williams, Cameron Cannon and Matt Fraizer got in on the act in the second. The score was 7-3 through two innings, and Arizona led the rest of the way.
The Utes did make things interesting, though. They scored one in the fourth and knocked Collins out of the game in the fifth, when lefty Randy Labaut came in to relieve Collins with a runner on first and nobody out.
Errors by Nick Quintana and Jacob Blas allowed Utah to get as close as 7-6, before Labaut got a huge strikeout with runners on the corners and two outs to end the threat with the one-run lead intact.
“It was one of those times when you could sense the game start to swing in a negative direction,” Johnson said. “It was great to see Randy execute in that situation today.”
Labaut let out a primal scream when he got out of the jam.
“I was just trying to get our guys fired up and the momentum back on our side,” he said.
It seemed to work as Arizona again responded positively to adversity, scoring five runs in the next half inning to reestablish their grip on the game.
With the scoreboard reading 12-6, Labaut was able to settle into a groove and the big Cuban didn’t allow a hit until the ninth inning. He finished with six strikeouts in his five-inning relief appearance.
Perhaps feeling slighted after the blowout on Friday, the Wildcats wouldn’t relent offensively, and the six combined runs they scored in the seventh and eighth innings ensured that the one run that Utah scratched off Labaut in the ninth wouldn’t have an affect on the outcome of the game.
It was an impressive performance at the plate from Arizona, who despite their struggles this season on the mound and in the field, have been pretty consistent on offense.
They were paced by their veterans. Cannon went 3 for 5 with three RBI, Quintana went 2 for 5 with two RBI and Fraizer went 4 for 5 with four RBI.
Cannon also recorded his 12th double of the year, the most in the country. Fraizer’s four RBI gave him 28 on the season, the most of any Wildcat.
“It means a lot,” Fraizer said of getting the series win after Friday’s disappointment, “Skip told us after just to stay with it and that we are a good team. We kind of just dug deep and kept going. We know what we can do moving forward.”
The defense and pitching still needs some fine tuning — Arizona made four errors and walked seven Sunday — but getting the series win over Utah after such a tough loss on Friday, says a lot about who exactly this team is and where they want to go this season.
The Wildcats moved to 12-7 overall and 2-1 in conference play with the victory, and will be back on action Tuesday night when they take on the high-powered New Mexico State Aggies at Hi Corbett.
First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST.
Here is Arizona baseball head coach Jay Johnson, after today’s series-clinching 18-7 victory over the Utah Utes at Hi-Corbett:Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, March 17, 2019
Here is Arizona pitcher Randy Labaut, after today’s 18-7 victory over Utah. Labaut picked up the win against the Utes, after throwing five solid innings of relief out of the bullpen.Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, March 17, 2019
Here is Arizona baseball outfielder Matt Fraizer, after today’s 18-7 victory over Utah. Fraizer went 4-5 in the game with four RBIs. His 28 RBIs on the season are the most of any Wildcat in 2019.Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, March 17, 2019