Arizona has arguably the best offense in college baseball, one that doesn’t need to rely on just the long ball. But on Friday night, that’s what carried it to victory.
The Wildcats smacked four home runs, two by super-hot Tony Bullard, to rally from down three runs early and beat Ole Miss 9-3 at Hi Corbett Field in Game 1 of Super Regionals.
Arizona (44-15) is a win away from reaching the College World Series for the 18th time in school history and first since 2016. It will turn to left-hander Garrett Irvin, who is coming off a 3-hit shutout in his last outing, at 7 p.m. PT Saturday on ESPN2. The Rebels will likely turn to All-American lefty Doug Nikhazy.
A UA postseason-record crowd of 5,839—which included a hefty helping of Ole Miss fans—saw the Wildcats fall behind 3-0 after just a half-inning when some early strategy backfired.
After Chase Silseth allowed a leadoff double on the first pitch of the game he retired the next two batters without the runner advancing. But then Arizona opted to intentionally walk Tim Elko, who had hit five home runs in the previous eight games, instead pitching to Justin Bench.
Bench responded by doubling down the right field line, scoring one, then a single to center by TJ McCants drove in two more. Ole Miss (44-21) had three hits in the top of the first but only three more the rest of the night.
“Coming in he wasn’t going to beat us,” UA coach Jay Johnson said of Elko, who ended up striking out in his other three at-bats.
The Wildcats began their comeback immediately, with Donta’ Williams homering to center to lead off the bottom of the first. It was originally ruled a double before replay changed it to a homer.
Bullard continued his ridiculous run with a solo homer to left-center to lead off the third, then tied the game with 1 out in the fourth with another solo shot. He became the first UA player with a multi-homer game in the postseason since Jordan Brown hit two against Arkansas in the 2004 CWS and has six homers in his last six games, going 15 for 24 in that span.
Silseth allowed six hits and walked four in 4.2 innings but avoided any further damage after the first, sticking around long enough for Arizona to turn to a bullpen that was without two key relievers due to the suspension of lefties Randy Abshier and Gil Luna.
“I think the story of the game was Chase buckling his chin strap after that initial punch in the gut,” Johnson said. “I actually thought he pitched pretty good. It never really got off the rails for him.
Ole Miss got the first two on against Silseth in the 5th, who bore down and got a strikeout and a pop out before making way for lefty Riley Cooper. The freshman responded by getting a groundout to end the frame, setting the stage for the UA to take the lead.
That came two batters later when, after a leadoff single by Williams (to finish a 10-pitch at-bat) and a pitching change, Jacob Berry greeted Rebels reliever Tyler Myers by blasting a 2-run homer deep to right-center to put the UA up 5-3. It was Berry’s first homer since walking off Dixie State in the regular-season finale and came after he was just 2 of 16 to that point in the postseason.
Ready for this one? 4️⃣4️⃣4️⃣ feet #BearDown pic.twitter.com/mavSNv6SIe— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) June 12, 2021
Arizona finally scored a run without a long ball in the sixth on an RBI groundout by Ryan Holgate after Bullard just missed a third homer but ended up with a triple. He finished 3 for 4 with 2 RBI and three runs scored.
The Wildcats broke it open in the bottom of the eighth on a 2-out, bases-clearing double by Williams, who was 3 for 5 with 4 RBI. They finished with 13 hits, the 26th time they’ve done so this season.
Arizona’s batters struck out just four times against an Ole Miss staff that was fanning 11.8 per nine innings and had never K’d fewer than five in a game this season.
“I liked the sustained pressure, I thought we took really quality at-bats,” Johnson said. “We really didn’t let up, I think we had only two innings where we didn’t score.”
Cooper (3-0) was masterful in his 2.1 innings, allowing just a walk, before Dawson Netz came on for the eighth and needed only 10 pitches to retire the Rebels. Vince Vanelle then retired the side in order in the ninth as Arizona’s bullpen got out the last 10 men it faced.
A freshman lefty, Cooper leads Arizona with 28 appearances and in his last six he’s allowed two earned runs over 11.2 innings.
“I just love having the opportunity to go in and help the team win,” Cooper said.