Third baseman Nick Quintana hit a walk-off single Sunday afternoon to give the Arizona Wildcats a 12-11 win, clinching the weekend series against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His hit ended what had been a wild game and weekend.
Here are just a few takeaways from the series:
Arizona’s offense is for real
The Wildcats’ bats have been fantastic this season, and that showed in the weekend series against UWM. Arizona scored 30 runs in three games, but more importantly, Arizona’s captains were consistent and effective offensively.
Outfielder Matt Fraizer had the best numbers over the weekend. He had seven hits, a home run, two walks and five RBI. Shortstop Cameron Cannon was right behind Fraizer with six hits, including his second homer of the season, and three RBIs. Cannon is hitting .438 for the season, leading the team. And don’t forget Quintana’s walk-off hit on Sunday.
Freshmen are also contributing this season, and the weekend series against UWM showed their talent is legitimate against true college competition. Austin Wells, who is second in hitting with a .395 average, had six hits over the weekend. He added four RBI, including one on sacrifice fly that was caught right at the wall. Fellow freshman Ryan Holgate has a team-best three homers but he made his mark by walking four times in the series. Two of his walks help start Arizona’s comeback on Sunday.
Pitchers need to avoid the big inning
While Arizona’s offense is clicking, it has mainly been bailing out the pitching. Wisconsin-Milwaukee had four runs or more in an inning in every game of the series with seven coming in the fifth on Saturday.
These rallies all started with at least one out in the inning, and usually against the starter. Then, after the starter is pulled because of the baserunners he allows, the reliever(s) comes in and are ineffective. Many of the inherited runners end up scoring in addition to the runs the relievers allow.
Coach Jay Johnson becomes forced to burn through multiple pitchers in an inning, with some not even recording an out.
If this continues into conference play, the run totals in big innings could be in the double digits when Arizona’s pitchers face higher-level talent.
Arizona’s pitchers need to avoid allowing big innings because, based on the way they pitch through the rest of the game, the offense can hit them to victories in most games. If the big innings are limited, this team could make a splash in June.
Too many errors
While the big innings are a problem, almost every such inning over the weekend featured an error to extend it.
Saturday, during a seven-run fifth for Milwaukee, a routine throw from Cannon to Wellswas dropped, allowing a run to score and the inning to continue. This was one of three errors involving Cannon’s throws to Wells, contributing to five unearned runs. Four errors occurred in total Saturday.
Sunday featured four more errors. Those errors put the Wildcats in two four-run deficits throughout the game. The first error occurred when a double play ball shot through Quintana’s legs. Instead of two outs with no one on, there were no outs and runners on second and third.
The worst error occurred in the eighth when a fly ball hit to Tyler Casagrande in right field hit off his glove before he kicked it into foul territory. That out would have ended the inning, and keep the score tied. Instead, after using three total pitchers, Arizona found themselves down four and needing a magical comeback in the bottom of the ninth to win.
Yes, freshmen will make errors, but success for this Wildcat team will rely the older players, and captains, to be better. Eight errors are too many for a team with College World Series aspirations.
The Wildcats know how to bounce back
After dropping the series against Houston last weekend, and blowing the save against New Mexico on Wednesday, no one would be surprised if Arizona had dropped the series against Milwaukee.
Instead, the Wildcats took the opener 14-6. They scored runs in six consecutive innings. The pitching only allowed runs in only two innings, and Arizona relievers pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
Even within the series against UWM, the Wildcats bounced back from Saturday’s loss to an impressive comeback Sunday. Despite the errors on Sunday, Arizona did not give up hope. In the bottom of the ninth, down three with two outs, Arizona had five hits in a row, and won on Quintana’s walk-off single.
Teams interested in winning the College World Series often win games in June with comebacks, and not giving up during games in early March will serve this team well.