It was bound to happen eventually. Better now that in a week or two.
Arizona had its 13-game home win streak snapped on Friday night, falling 11-9 to Division I newcomer Dixie State in what can be described as its first truly bad loss of the season. It came on the same night the Wildcats (39-15) clinched their first outright Pac-12 title since 1989, by virtue of Oregon’s 11-3 loss at Cal.
The UA had been 18-0 against teams ranked outside the top 100 of the RPI, its lowest-rated loss before Friday coming to No. 98 Wichita on March 12.
“Dixie beat us,” UA coach Jay Johnson said. “Those guys hit a lot of line drives and a lot of balls that were really hit hard tonight. They swung the bat a lot better than a lot of Pac-12 opponents against us.”
Early on it looked like Arizona was going to pull away in a game that was heavily influenced by the long ball. The UA led 7-3 after three innings thanks to two home runs from Tony Bullard, the second a grand slam that was measured at 470 feet. But Dixie State (24-31) came right back with three runs in the top of the fourth, pushing Arizona starter Chase Silseth from the game, then took a 9-8 lead with a 3-run sixth.
The tying 2-run double, and the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, were both by Dixie senior Jake Engel, a graduate of nearby Ironwood Ridge High School who also tied the school’s career RBI record at the NCAA level.
Silseth only lasted 3.2 innings, allowing six runs on five hits with three walks (which tied for a season high) and seven strikeouts. Johnson said he was on a 90-pitch count, wanting to keep him fresh for the postseason, but said Silseth wasn’t sharp.
“The good thing about Chase is, I’d say he’s had two or three subpar outings, the next time he’s electric and that’s what I expect to see next week,” Johnson said.
Arizona’s bullpen did it no favors, with four consecutive relievers each allowing a run. Only one of five UA relievers recorded a strikeout, that being two from Gil Luna, but he also allowed a 2-out, 2-run triple in the eighth to put Dixie up 11-8 and end his scoreless innings streak at 20.1.
The Wildcats had 14 hits but only three came in the final four innings, the only one producing a run being Jacob Berry’s solo homer with one out in the ninth. Branden Boissiere, who was 4 for 4, followed with a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch but then Daniel Susac was out in front on an off-speed pitch and flied out to center and Ryan Holgate grounded to second to end it.
Arizona started the game 5 for 5 with runners in scoring position and ended 5 for 11.
“We’re disappointed in the overall play,” Johnson said. “This is the first time in a while we haven’t had the complimentary baseball piece going the way that we’ve had.”
Johnson admitted it was bittersweet to have the outright title be clinched during a loss, but that won’t take away from the achievement.
“That’s a really good accomplishment, and we’re going to celebrate that,” he said. “I’m really happy we’re not sharing it with anyone.”
Arizona wraps up the regular season Saturday at 6 p.m PT at Hi Corbett. Prior to the game the Wildcats will honor senior pitchers Vince Vannelle and Preston Price, the latter of whom threw a perfect ninth inning for his first appearance in seven weeks due to arm soreness, as well as their recent college graduates.
Lefty Garrett Irvin, who Johnson described as his team’s “best pitcher,” will start the finale, and he said he’s got a “loaded deck” of relievers if needed.
“We’ve responded well each time to any kind of failure this year, so we need to do that tomorrow,” he said.