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Arizona baseball defeats Albany 11-3, sweeps season-opening series

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

If Arizona baseball’s first series of 2020 is any indication of how the rest of the Wildcats’ season is going to play out, head coach Jay Johnson and company will be very happy come May.

Albeit against a lesser opponent, Arizona dominated its three-game set against Albany to open the year, outscoring the Great Danes 38-10, outhitting them 40-16 and racking up a ridiculous 43 strikeouts. The Cats struck out just 17 times themselves.

Despite being closer than the final score indicated (Albany left 14 guys on base), Sunday’s series finale was no exception to that dominance.

Arizona (3-0) sealed the sweep, grabbing an 11-3 win at Hi Corbett Field.

For the third straight game the Wildcats took a first inning lead, pulling ahead 1-0 on a two-out triple by Dayton Dooney that scored Matt Dyer.

The Cats then added a run in the second inning when Austin Wells drew a bases loaded walk, and then another run in the third on a Donta Williams RBI single to make it 3-0.

On the mound, Arizona once again got a solid outing and a win from their starting pitcher.

Over the course of the series, the Wildcats’ starting pitchers combined to allow just nine hits and two runs in 17 innings. They issued just five walks.

On Sunday, freshman Chandler Murphy (1-0) allowed only three hits, no runs and no walks in five innings of work. He worked in and out of trouble, stranding five base runners, including three in scoring position.

“I felt really good,” Murphy said of his first collegiate action. “I thought of it as like a normal game. I tried to just stay relaxed and do what I do.”

Sophomore lefty Randy Abshier relieved Murphy to start the sixth inning, but struggled to find a groove, recording only two outs and allowing two runs to score before being replaced with the bases loaded by junior lefty Gil Luna.

With the scoreboard reading 3-2 and the game seemingly in the balance, Luna got out of the bases loaded jam with a strikeout on a blazing fastball to preserve the Wildcats one-run lead.

He was visibly fired up walking off the mound and had every right to be.

It was a huge moment — both for the team and for Luna personally.

The lefty struggled in 2019, posting an 9.16 ERA and finishing with more walks (26) than innings pitched (18.2).

“I feel like from last year to this year I changed a lot of things on the mound and off the field,” he said Sunday. “(Today) I felt like it was just another outing and I didn’t really take the runners into consideration. It was just, go out there and compete against that hitter.”

After Luna got them out of the bases loaded jam, Arizona’s bats didn’t hesitate to respond to Albany’s two-runs in the sixth—and they plated three runs of their own in the bottom of the frame to push the lead up to 6-2.

Wells singled in two more runs, before Williams drove him in to pick up his second RBI of the day.

Albany then scored an unearned run the next inning — thanks to a fielding error and a late throw both coming from shortstop Kyson Donahue — bringing the score to 6-3 before Arizona grabbed complete control of the game late on.

The Cats scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh and another run in the eighth to make it 11-3.

Luna went back out there for the ninth to try to finish it out, but could only get two outs before being replaced by senior righty Preston Price. Luna finished the game with a final line of: 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 run, 0 earned runs and 5 strikeouts.

He too left with the bases loaded, but Price was able to get a strikeout to end the game without anymore damage.

“Gil was impressive,” Johnson said afterwards. “I think if you saw last year and this year you know what I’m talking about. We have a lot of faith in him. He got a little tired in the ninth there. That’s okay.”

The win means that Arizona has now won 13 straight dating back to last season, the nation’s longest such streak.

Williams finished the day 2-3 with two runs scored and 3 RBIs, while Wells went 2-4 with 4 RBIs. Dooney went 1-4 with 2 RBIs of his own. Donahue made up for his defensive miscues by going 3-4 with four runs scored.

Wells is now leading the team with 12 RBIs and Dooney is second in the category with eight.

Donahue is leading the team in average with a .636 mark. Wells (.533), Williams (.583) and Ryan Holgate (.600) are all hitting over .500 as well.

Remarkably, Arizona recorded more strikeouts in each game of the series (13 on Friday, 14 on Saturday and 16 on Sunday) than it did in any game all of 2019.

With the sweep in hand, the Wildcats will now have a quick turnaround. They are scheduled to Minnesota on Monday morning in Phoenix.

First pitch is set for 11 a.m. MST at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Johnson announced Sunday that a “group” of guys will be ready to pitch.

Arizona’s skipper said that freshman Dawson Netz is the probable starter.

Postgame interviews

Jay Johnson

Here’s Arizona head coach Jay Johnson, after the Wildcats defeated Albany 11-3 today to seal a sweep of their season-opening series:

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, February 16, 2020

Chandler Murphy

Here’s Arizona freshman pitcher Chandler Murphy, who got the W in today’s 11-3 win over Albany: In five innings, Murphy didn’t give up a run and allowed just three hits and two walks against the Great Danes. He finished the game with seven Ks.

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, February 16, 2020

Gil Luna

Here’s Arizona RHP Gil Luna after the Wildcats’ 11-3 win over Albany: Luna pitched 2.2 innings of solid baseball, allowing just one run (unearned) and striking out five.

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, February 16, 2020