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Arizona baseball clinches 5th straight Pac-12 series with home win over USC

arizona-wildcats-college-baseball-usc-trojans-recap-susac-berry-kato-murphy-pac12-2021 Arizona Athletics

If Arizona keeps winning every weekend series, it’s not just going to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017, it’s going to have a chance to make a pretty deep postseason run.

The Wildcats (26-11, 11-6) won their fifth straight game, beating USC 10-6 on Saturday night at Hi Corbett Field. In doing so they’ve clinched a Pac-12 series for the fifth consecutive weekend after losing the first conference series of the season at UCLA in mid-March.

Arizona cranked out 17 hits, nine for extra bases, with freshman catcher Daniel Susac’s solo home run with one out in the bottom of the seventh breaking a 5-5 tie and starting a 4-run rally. Fellow freshman Jacob Berry blasted a solo shot to right in the eighth, while second baseman Kobe Kato had two of the Wildcats’ seven doubles in going 3 for 5 with three runs scored.

The UA might not have been in the position to run away late if not for a series of key plays in the middle stages, one defensive, one on the base paths and one on the mound.

USC (18-15, 6-8) scored three in the top of the fifth to go up 4-3, putting starter Garrett Irvin on the ropes with one out. Another hit or two could have knocked the lefty out early, causing Arizona to go a different direction with its bullpen plans, but instead shortstop Jacob Blas leaped high to snag a screaming liner off the bat of USC’s Jamal O’Guinn, then as he came back to the ground fired over to first base in time to finish off an inning-ending double play.

Arizona took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth, the first run coming on a Nik McClaughry sacrifice fly that saw Kato beat the throw home. Kato was on third after a leadoff single that got past USC center fielder Rhylan Thomas, allowing him to advance two extra bases on the error.

“Every run to us is important,” Kato said. “Every run helps our team feel more comfortable. I saw (the center fielder) pull up so I knew I was going to take a turn, but once I saw the ball kick away from him I was just going.”

Kato beat a second throw home on a McClaughry single during the 4-run seventh, popping up out of his slide with a fist bump each time. The sophomore is hitting .433 in Pac-12 play.

USC tied it at 5 in the seventh, chasing Irvin in the process. Chandler Murphy came on with runners on the corners and two out and struck out O’Guinn on three pitches, his lone batter faced in improving to 5-0 with the last three wins in relief.

“Chandler Murphy’s strikeout was pivotal,” UA coach Jay Johnson said. “That was the game, in my opinion, because it allowed the game to be tied, swung the momentum back in our dugout and our offense came up and did their thing.”

Susac’s game-winning homer was his ninth of the season, sixth in Pac-12 play, and went 425 feet to left-center. The UA freshman record for homers in conference play is eight, by Shelley Duncan, who hit a school freshman-record 20 in 1999.

Berry’s 418-foot blast to right in the eighth was his 10th.

With the series clinched, Arizona has a fourth chance to sweep a Pac-12 series at 1 p.m. PT Sunday. It came up short in the Sunday game against Oregon, ASU and Cal, but Johnson likes his team’s odds despite not knowing yet who will be starting since Irvin and Friday starter Chase Silseth combined for 14.2 innings.

“I like the position we’re in to utilize pitchers tomorrow,” he said. “There’s several guys that are on the table that can be used, everybody that threw tonight aasn’t extended enough, so we have a lot in the tank going into tomorrow. I don’t know that it’s anybody’s game to go in and get us five or six (innings) or anything like that. I think you’ll see a lot of guys be utilized.”