The Arizona Wildcats’ ability to hit the ball is a known quantity. A quick look at the NCAA batting rankings in 2019 can attest to that.
But effective pitching is the key to success in college baseball, something Arizona hasn’t been able to boast in recent years.
One game doesn’t make a season, but the arms the Wildcats threw out in their 2020 season opener on Friday night at least give the impression that they are going to be improved in at least one area.
Four Arizona pitchers combined to strike out 14 Albany batters in a 12-7 win before 2,459 fans at Hi Corbett Field on Friday night, the Wildcats’ 11th consecutive victory dating back to last season. Arizona never struck out more than 12 opposing hitters in any game in 2019.
“It’s a lot easier to play defense when you strike people out,” UA head coach Jay Johnson said.
Junior college transfer Garrett Irvin allowed two runs and four hits in five innings to get the victory. The left-hander struck out seven with just one walk and a hit batter, showing off a nifty pickoff move that caught two Albany runners off first base.
“I don’t think Garrett was really sharp, to be honest,” Johnson said. “But he threw strikes.”
Vince Vannelle then struck out five over the next two innings, fanning the side swinging in the sixth, then Nate Brown added two more punchouts in the eighth. Only Zach Sherman, who allowed five runs in the ninth, failed to record a strikeout.
Not a bad first game under the guidance of new pitching coach Nate Yeskie, whom Arizona hired away from perennial power Oregon State during the summer.
Arizona’s hitting was as potent as ever, notching 13 hits (nine for extra bases) including a pair of 400-foot home runs by catcher Austin Wells and right fielder Ryan Holgate. Wells also had two doubles and drove in four while center fielder Donta Williams added two hits and three RBI and catcher Matthew Dyer had three hits including two doubles.
“I like what I saw from our guys tonight,” Johnson said. “I’m not surprised.”
Arizona scored two runs in the first inning and four in the second, chasing Albany’s pitcher one batter into the third. The big blow was a 3-run home run by Wells in the bottom of the second to make it 6-1.
A four-run sixth, highlighted by doubles from Williams, Wells and Dyer upped the margin to 10-2, then Holgate bombed one over the line just right of center in the seventh.
“I think we’re right on par with where we left off last year,” Wells said.
Arizona continues its season-opening series with Albany at 6 p.m. MT Saturday, with sophomore righty Quinn Flanagan taking the mound. Flanagan went 8-3 last year.
Here’s Arizona head coach Jay Johnson after the Wildcats’ 12-7 win over Albany to open the 2020 season:Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, February 14, 2020
Here’s Arizona baseball star Austin Wells on the Wildcats 12-7 win over Albany to open the 2020 season: Wells went 3-4 with a HR, two doubles and 4 RBI on Friday night.Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, February 14, 2020
Here’s Arizona’s starting pitcher tonight, Garrett Irvin, after he got the win against Albany in his first ever start as a Wildcat: Irvin finished with 7 strikeouts and just 1 walk, while allowing 4 hits and 2 runs in 5 IP against the Great Danes.Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, February 14, 2020