After failing to win a season-opening series for the first time in the Jay Johnson era, the Arizona Wildcats opened their second series of the year with a 7-4 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday night at Hi Corbett Field.
With parents and family in attendance for the first time this season, Arizona (3-2) built on an impressive showing Monday against Ball State, totaling 12 hits and drawing four walks, while its bullpen shut the door in what was the first of a 4-game set against the Lions.
“I don’t think the score is indicative of this game tonight,” Johnson said afterward. “Because we hit the ball hard a lot with runners in scoring position and were not rewarded for it. We were in a much better place.”
Sophomore right-hander Chase Silseth (2-0) followed a quality start on Opening Night with another solid performance Thursday, getting the win after allowing four runs and five hits over 6.2 innings pitched. The 6-footer finished with 10 strikeouts and two walks on the night, often overpowering the Lions’ hitters with an impressive fastball and keeping them off balance with effective off-speed pitches.
Silseth cruised through the Lions’ lineup for the most part of the early stages, but only after he worked out of trouble in the first inning after the SLU leadoff hitter doubled to open the game and was then moved over to third on a sacrifice bunt.
With a runner on third and just one out, Silseth induced a pop up to Branden Boissiere at first base to get an important second out before he struck out Nick Ray to end the threat without any damage done.
The sophomore roared with approval as he stepped off the mound.
As his offense went to work, he then settled in, firing 1-2-3 innings in the second, third and fourth, while striking out the side in the fifth.
At one point Silseth retired 12 straight Lions, but he ran into trouble in the top of sixth inning, allowing four runs to come across with his team leading 7-0.
After recovering to escape the sixth with no further damage, Silseth returned and got two quick outs in the seventh before he allowed two Lions to reach and was taken out of the game in favor of Vince Vannelle.
“I thought it was good, I thought it was really good,” Johnson said of his starter’s performance. “This field is an interesting place man, you leave one crack and next thing you know there are three runs on the board. He put us in position to win the ball game and to get our guys that we want in the game at the back end of the game in there. So he did his job and I expect him to be ready next week.”
Once he was called upon, Vannelle got the job done, escaping the jam Silseth had left him in the seventh by getting a ground out to end the inning and out of yet another (this one he created for himself) in the eighth.
For the second straight inning, the Lions sent up the tying run to the plate, but Vannelle was able to pick off the SLU runner at second and then proceeded to get a pop up to end the inning.
Preston Price entered the game in the ninth and recorded the last three outs for Arizona to get the save.
Vannelle and Price have combined to throw nine innings of scoreless baseball out of the Arizona bullpen this season, and afterwards their manager called them “one of the most important pieces” to Arizona’s potential success this year.
Much like in Monday’s series finale against Ball State, the Cats struck early Thursday — capitalizing on a defensive mishap from the SLU center and right fielders to open the scoring in the bottom of the first inning.
Donta’ Williams singled to open the inning (the first of his four hits in the game), and the Wildcats then loaded the bases with two outs when Jacob Blas was hit by a pitch and Boissiere walked.
Freshman Jacob Berry, who went 3 for 3 with two RBI and a walk in Monday’s finale against Ball State, then stepped up to the plate and hit what looked like off the bat a routine fly out to right center field.
The SLU center and right fielders totally misplayed the ball however, losing it in the twilight of the Hi Corbett sky, and as the right fielder looked to be settling under the ball (with the center fielder staring at him after jogging over) the ball meekly dropped in play to the center fielder’s right.
Three runs came around to score and Berry was awarded a triple as he gave the Cats an early 3-0 lead. Berry, who started 0 for 6 in college, is now 4 for 7 with five RBI in his last two games.
Arizona added two more runs in the bottom of the second via a two-out, two-RBI single from Ryan Holgate, and another run in the third via an error from the Southeastern Louisiana second baseman to bring the score to 6-0.
Holgate, who finished the night 2-5, is now up to 9 RBI on the young season to lead Arizona in the category and his split of .421/.520/.632 through 19 at-bats this year is massively impressive as well.
After failing to score in the fourth inning for the first time in a remarkable 11 consecutive frames, the Wildcats tacked on another run in the fifth via an RBI from Kobe Kato to cap their scoring.
First pitch of game two between Arizona and Southeastern Louisiana is set for Friday at 6 p.m MST.