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Arizona baseball falls to Central Michigan in extra innings

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arizona-wildcats-baseball-roster-mlb-draft-jay-johnson-ncaa-legislation-season-change-coronavirus Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

After going 2-1 at the Tony Gwynn Legacy in San Diego last weekend, the Arizona Wildcats returned to Hi Corbett Field Wednesday night when they took on the Central Michigan Chippewas.

After a 3-2 win over Nebraska to close out the Gwynn, Arizona’s return home against CMU was a chance to grab a second straight victory and remain undefeated at Hi Corbett this season.

The Wildcats didn’t capitalize though, and were defeated by Central Michigan 4-2 in 10 innings, dropping to 5-3 in 2020 and just 2-3 since their sweep of Albany to open the year.

It was another poor performance at that plate from the Cats, as they totaled just five hits in the extra-inning loss.

A prodigious offense last season, Arizona is now batting just .279 as a team after eight games.

After averaging 12.6 runs per game against Albany to open the year, the Wildcats have averaged just 2.8 in their last five contests.

UA head coach Jay Johnson was clearly frustrated by his team’s offensive performance afterwards.

“It’s just a disappointing loss. We did not play well, and want to make sure we find the reasons for that and then go work on them tomorrow,” the dejected skipper said.

“I just don’t think we’re taking the caliber of at-bats that we hold to the standard around here, and you know there’s a lot of different reasons for that. Baseball is a hard game, and I think a few guys are struggling with confidence that have had success before. We’ve got to try to figure out a way to help those guys get back in order, mentally and physically, and just get better for Friday.”

A couple of the guys who have struggled so far, that Johnson seemed to be talking, were stars from last year, Matt Dyer and Dayton Dooney.

The highly regarded duo are both hitting a measly .143 so far this season.

“I think Donta [Williams] has been incredibly solid, Austin [Wells] has been solid, he didn’t have a great game tonight, but he’s been solid. Ryan Holgate has been been good. But it just can’t be those three guys.” Johnson said Wednesday. “Because we have guys, other than them that are good players, they’re really good players. And I think there is some self doubt, you know, those kinds of things. Maybe some pressing, maybe some external factors, you know that they’re trying to prove themselves. We’ve got to get them kind of just contained back into a solid approach.”

The Wildcats managed just one hit in the first three innings Wednesday night, and fell behind 2-0 in the top of the fourth when their starting pitcher, freshman lefty Dawson Netz, gave up a two-run home run with one out.

Netz (0-1) had an okay start, finishing with a final line of: 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 4.1 IP.

Junior righty Ian Churchill came out of the bullpen to replace Netz, and worked 2.2 scoreless frames — allowing the Wildcats to stay within striking distance in the middle innings.

The Cats were then able to get on the board in the bottom of the fifth, after Williams hit a sacrifice fly to score Tyler Casagrande.

The run came after Johnson pulled the right strings by pinch-hitting Casagrande and Branden Boissiere for the ineffectice duo of Kyson Donahue (0-1, K, E) and Mac Bingham (0-1) and both Casagrande and Boissiere rewarded their manager with hits.

After scoring that run, Arizona continued to struggle at the plate, but the bullpen kept it in the game.

Blake Peyton and Preston Price both threw 0.2 innings without allowing a run.

Heading into the bottom of the eighth it was still just 2-1.

Trailing by one with just six outs to work with, the Cats put together a rally to tie the game at 2-2 when Kobe Kato came around to score on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Jacob Blas. Blas hit the ball to the first baseman, who tossed the ball to the pitcher at first as Kato came around to score.

Again Johnson pulled the right strings, not only pinch-running Kato for Holgate at second base, but also having the runner moving on a 3-2 count with one away.

After Gil Luna came on and worked a scoreless top of the ninth, Arizona had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the frame, when Williams tried to come all the way around from first on a bloop from Blake Paugh that dropped into shallow left center.

The ball was hit what seemed like a mile high in the air, allowing Williams to quickly get to third, but after the ball somehow dropped in for a hit, he was thrown out at the plate representing the winning run.

“He was running hard. He was giving everything he had,” Johnson said of Williams on that last play.

“You gotta roll the dice there with two outs. You live by the sword you die by the sword. He is a great competitor, nobody wants to win on our team more than him. I mean he is the most sold out player on our team. Good throw by them, a good long hop made it easy for the catcher to handle it.”

Central Michigan then went on to score two runs off Luna in the 10th.

Remarkably, the son of Arizona Athletic Director Dave Heeke, Zach Heeke, came around to score the go ahead run run in the 10th. Zach is a senior first baseman for the Chippewas.

The Cats went down quietly in the bottom of the inning to seal the loss.

“Just respecting every opportunity we have to compete, and making sure we’re ready to play, Johnson said of the lesson he wanted his team to take from the loss.

“That means different things to different people. For us it should mean playing with great fundamentals, being very competitive and playing in the character that we hold to a high standard. That’s a good team that’s gonna want a lot of games and I’m glad we have another crack at them on Friday.”

Arizona is back in action Friday night at 6 p.m. MST when it takes on the Chippewas again at Hi Corbett.

The game will be the first of the Arizona Tournament.

Postgame interview

Jay Johnson

Here’s Arizona head coach Jay Johnson after the Wildcats were defeated 4-2 in 10 innings by the Central Michigan Chippewas Wednesday night at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona (5-3) struggled on offense in a big way, amassing just 4 hits. The UA is now hitting just .279 after 8 games this season.

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, February 26, 2020