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8-run 4th inning fuels Arizona baseball to blowout win over New Mexico State

arizona-wildcats-baseball-college-nmsu-aggies-recap-hi-corbett-pac12-murphy-bullard-2021 Arizona Athletics

Arizona’s last midweek home game of the season went about the same way the last few did, with one exception: mercy on the opponent.

Backup catcher Kaden Hopson’s 2-run single with two out in the bottom of the seventh enacted a pre-arranged 10-run mercy rule, giving the Wildcats a shorter-than-expected 14-3 win over New Mexico State on Tuesday night at Hi Corbett Field.

UA coach Jay Johnson said NMSU (19-32) had asked for the mercy rule—which goes into effect when a team is up by 10 or more runs in the seventh or later—because it had just finished a 3-day, 4-game series on Sunday and were getting ready for the upcoming Western Athletic Conference tournament.

“Tonight was actually the first game that it has been in effect,” said Johnson, who said his only regret was that the many reserves he put into the game late couldn’t have played more. “I liked how those guys came in and getting at-bats were taking at-bats. I would have liked to have gotten them all out there again.”

Of its 14 runs and 14 hits, Arizona (36-13) got three of each from backups who came on in the fifth inning or later. The early substitutions became doable after the Wildcats scored eight runs in the bottom of the third to turn a tight 3-2 game into a runaway at 11-2.

Arizona’s previous Tuesday night home games had resulted in wins over 14-2 over Grand Canyon, 11-4 over NMSU and 14-2 over ASU.

Four starters notched two hits apiece before the subs came in, including No. 8 and 9 hitters Tony Bullard and Nik McClaughry. It was Bullard’s third straight 2-hit game, raising his average to .281.

“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable, just consistently getting those ABs I feel like I’ve really progressed,” said Bullard, who has started the last nine games at third base.

Overshadowed once again by the offense was the pitching performance, with three arms combining to strike out 12 Aggies including the final seven batters. It’s the 24th time in 49 games Arizona has struck out 10 or more batters, and 35th time in 64 games since Nate Yeskie was hired as pitching coach.

“He was brought here to bring a competitiveness to our pitching staff that I want to identify with our program,” Johnson said of Yeskie, who came from Oregon State. “He’s done a great job, he’s done exactly what we’ve wanted him to, to help us win all kinds of games. The strikeouts are a byproduct of him developing guys.”

The win went to Chandler Murphy, who struck out six in 3.1 innings to improve to 6-0. He’s the first UA freshman to win his first six decisions since Kurt Heyer in 2010.

Murphy, who began the season in the starting rotation, is 4-0 since being moved to the bullpen.

“I think he’s done a good job of going out and getting outs, from that first game against Arizona State when he came in and threw five hitless,” Johnson said. “He’s been big in a lot of important wins and tonight was no different. I was sitting there tonight, going ‘man, I’m really glad we had him available for tonight.’”

Arizona heads to Oregon State this weekend for its final Pac-12 series. At 19-8, the Wildcats are percentage points behind Oregon (17-7) for first place.