They were so close.
Thanks to a strong start on the mound from Randy Labaut and early home runs from Nick Quintana and Tony Bullard, Arizona baseball was holding on to a 4-1 lead over No. 2 Oregon State in the bottom of the seventh inning on Thursday.
On the road against highly-ranked OSU, the Wildcats were just a few outs away from claiming what would have been a huge victory for both the team’s RPI and its overall morale.
A win in game one of the team’s three-game series could’ve possibly jumpstarted the Cats’ campaign and gotten them back on track in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament this year.
It wasn’t to be.
Once again, Arizona’s Achilles’ heel this season — their bullpen — blew the lead their offense had given them and ultimately cost the Wildcats the game.
The combination of Avery Weems, Gil Luna and Zach Sherman allowed five runs in just two innings of work to ultimately seal the disheartening 8-4 loss to the No. 2 Beavers.
Arizona dropped to 18-17 overall and 6-10 in conference play with the defeat, while Luna took the L on the mound.
Quintana’s team-best eighth home run of the season opened the scoring in the top of the third, before Oregon State immediately responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the frame to make it 1-1.
In the next inning, Bullard’s first collegiate home run (a three-run blast to left) put the Wildcats back on top 4-1.
With the Cats leading by three runs and seemingly on a roll at the plate, it seemed as if they were going to be able to run away with the victory.
The bats stopped hitting after that however and Arizona didn’t record a hit in the game after the fourth inning.
After working in and out of trouble, Labaut then allowed another run to score in the bottom of the fifth cutting the Cats’ lead to 4-2.
The Beavers chased Labaut from the game a couple of innings later, after he allowed a leadoff walk to start the seventh, before Weems allowed two runs to come around to score and tie the game.
Luna replaced Weems and got out of a bases loaded jam to end the seventh with the score still tied, but wasn’t as fortunate in the eighth, where he allowed Oregon State to get a run and go on top 5-4.
Sherman replaced Luna after he gave up the lead and promptly allowed a soul-crushing three-run home run to the first Oregon State batter he faced, bringing the score to 8-4 and all but ending the contest.
It was another solid start wasted by the Wildcats’ bullpen, as Labaut performed well enough to put his team in a position to win the game but was ultimately betrayed in the end by his relievers.
What’s that old adage in baseball? “You’re only as good as your bullpen.”
Arizona baseball is finding out just that in 2019.
Game two between the Wildcats and No. 2 Oregon State is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. MST.