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Arizona baseball crushes New Mexico State to open long homestand

Gil Luna
Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats are hard to beat at home, especially when they’re hitting. If Tuesday’s plate performance is any indication, their just-begun 8-game homestand is going to be a productive one.

Arizona spotted New Mexico State a 2-0 lead after a half inning before rolling to an 11-4 win at Hi Corbett Field.

The Wildcats (24-11) scored four times in the bottom of the second to take the lead for good and then blew things open with a 6-run fourth, carrying over the big offensive numbers they put up in wins of 13-8 and 14-8 at Washington State over the weekend.

After getting nothing in the bottom of the first despite having three baserunners, Arizona didn’t miss on their second (inning) chances. A leadoff double by Daniel Susac got things started, with Susac later coming home on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jacob Blas, who had missed the last four games due to an upper body injury.

Nik McClaughry tied the game with an RBI single, then Mac Bingham put the Wildcats up 4-2 with a 2-run, 2-out double.

All those runs came against NMSU starter Ian Mejia, a member of Arizona’s 2019 freshman class who never pitched for the Wildcats. He played the shortened 2020 season at Pima Community College before joining the Aggies.

Mejia was pulled two batters into the fourth, with those runs coming home during that 6-run frame. RBI singles by McClaughry and Branden Boissiere, an RBI double by Jacob Berry and 2-run single by Susac accounted for Arizona’s scoring.

Berry added a solo home run, his ninth of the season and third in the past two games, in the sixth.

Bingham, Boissiere and Kobe Kato had three hits apiece, while McClaughry drove in three and Berry, Bingham and Susac each had two RBI. The Wildcats have scored 38 runs and notched 49 hits since being crushed 21-2 at WSU on Friday.

UA coach Jay Johnson said he’s waiting until after batting practice to do his lineup, something that’s been in effect the past three games. It contributed to him putting Bingham in the No. 3 hole, and Bingham came through with his first 3-hit game of the season.

“I think there’s just a quest for some lineup balance, if you will, in terms of where the speed, the power, RBI, the solid hitting guys are, blending left and right,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is set us up to (be able to) score two in every inning.”

NMSU (11-22) scored twice in the top of the first inning despite only recording one hit. Leadoff man Zerek Saenz worked an 11-pitch walk, the first of three free passes issued by starter TJ Nichols. Nichols, who was sent home from the past road trip due to an illness, causing him to miss his normal Sunday start, lasted only one-third of an inning.

While Nichols struggled, the four relievers who followed him did not. They did not allow an unearned run over 8.2 innings of work, striking out 15.

“I like that they finished some guys off,” Johnson said. “I also like the fact that we didn’t have to use some guys. We really extended our pen on Sunday. So I think that’s the story, of those guys throwing strikes and keeping the momentum in our dugout, letting our offense be our offense.”

Randy Abshier inherited a bases-loaded situation and walked in a run before getting a double play, as the lefty allowed one hit and two walks with four strikeouts over 2.2 innings to pick up his second win.

Dawson Netz allowed an unearned run over three innings with four strikeouts, Gila Luna Jr. followed with four strikeouts over two innings, allowing a hit, two walks and an unearned run, then George Arias Jr. finished things off with a clean ninth and three Ks.

A forgotten figure for most of the season with only one appearance in Arizona’s first 29 games, Luna has struck out 10 and allowed no earned runs in 7.2 innings in his last three outings.

“I think the biggest thing was being able to stay with the team,” said Luna, who has been part of every travel roster this season. “Being able to watch what the team was doing, even though I wasn’t in the mix, being able to support them. The biggest thing for me was to keep working to better my craft and better myself. There was obviously a reason I wasn’t throwing.”

Added Johnson: “I give Gil a lot of credit. He’s just stayed with it. He kind of had to wait his turn. We’re going to keep putting him out there.”

Arizona returns to Pac-12 play on Friday when it hosts USC at Hi Corbett.