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Strong pitching helps sluggish Arizona slip past Dixie State

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Baseball hangovers can last longer than regular ones, particularly if it’s been a few days in between games.

Arizona looked a bit, at least in the early innings on Thursday night, like a team that was still celebrating on the field in Corvallis last Sunday after learning it had won the Pac-12 title. Yet in the end the Wildcats still won their 13th straight game at Hi Corbett, beating Dixie State 4-2.

“I’ll be frank, I thought we look incredibly tired, and spent a little bit,” UA coach Jay Johnson said. “Which is not surprising. I mean, these guys have played hard every single game of the year. I think that extra day off this weekend before getting going (in the NCAA Tournament) will benefit our team greatly.”

Arizona (39-14) managed just five hits against a Dixie State team with a 7.85 ERA and are now 0-14 against Quadrant 1 and 2 teams. The Wildcats benefitted from four Trailblazer errors, six walks and a hit batter, as all four of their runs were scored by players who didn’t reach base via a hit.

The UA was down 2-0 after the top of the second inning before scoring single runs in the bottom of the second, fifth, sixth and eight. It took the lead in the sixth when Donta’ Williams’ 2-out bouncer over the pitcher’s mound forced a bad throw to first, allowing Tanner O’Tremba—who reached on a 1-out HBP—to score from second.

“We had enough strike-zone discipline where we got enough free bases in there,” Johnson said.

While Arizona’s offense looked sluggish, its pitching was in top form. Chandler Murphy, Randy Abshier and Gil Luna combined on a five-hitter, allowing no earned runs while striking out eight.

Murphy, making his first start since April 3 at ASU, allowed three hits and two walks over the first five. He also gave up both runs in the second, which were unearned due to his throwing error.

Johnson said he started Murphy—who found out when he arrived at Hi Corbett he was getting the ball first—because of the possibility of Arizona needing to play up to five games next weekend to win a regional. Murphy said it doesn’t matter to him which role he has in the postseason.

“I love starting, but I also love getting the ball in big situations out of the bullpen,” Murphy said.

Abshier threw the next 2.2 innings to improve to 4-0 then Luna got the final four batters, the first three via strikeout, for his first save. Luna’s ERA dropped to a team-best 0.92 innings as thrown 19.2 consecutive scoreless innings with 28 strikeouts.

“I thought Gil’s been outstanding and really a story of what’s been happening here on the back half,” Johnson said.

It was Arizona’s 13th consecutive home win, its longest win streak at Hi Corbett since winning 19 in 2016-17 including the first 17 games of the 2017 season. If the Wildcats win their next seven home games, assuming they host both regionals and Super Regionals, they’ll end up in Omaha for the College World Series.