Midway through a lopsided loss to Ole Miss on Saturday night, a large helping of fans started walking down from their seats, no doubt unhappy with having experienced a very un-Arizona-like performance.
Those that came back on Sunday saw the real product, the one the Wildcats are taking with them to Omaha.
Arizona blitzed Ole Miss from the outset, rolling to a 16-2 win in Game 3 of the Super Regionals at Hi Corbett Field. The UA (45-16) is headed to the College World Series for the 18th time and the first since 2016, when it fell to Coastal Carolina in the CWS championship series.
The Wildcats, the No. 5 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, will open CWS play on Saturday against No. 4 Vanderbilt (45-15) at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. Game times and TV info are expected to be announced Monday.
A night after falling behind 7-0 and ultimately losing 12-3, with neither its pitching or hitting faring well, both came to play in the series clincher. A crowd of 5,139 saw the Wildcats match a season high with 20 hits, setting a season mark with 10 extra-base hits, and score their most runs in a postseason game since beating Louisville 16-3 in the 2012 regional final.
It was a performance that Branden Boissiere more or less predicted after Saturday’s game.
“I just know how we bounce back from losses like that,” Boissiere said. “We’ve had it happen to us before in the season.”
Seven UA players had multi-hit games, with Boissiere going 4 for 6 with 5 RBI while Ryan Holgate, Kobe Kato and Donta’ Williams all had three hits. Williams scored four times, while Boissiere and Jacob Berry scored three times apiece.
It was also a by-committee approach on the mound, with freshman right-hander Dawson Netz the surprise choice to start after 24 of his previous 25 appearances had been in relief.
Netz held Ole Miss off the scoreboard in the first, something neither Chase Silseth or Garrett Irvin could do, enabling Arizona to take an early lead with some 2-out magic. Boissiere doubled off the wall in left, then Tony Bullard—who was moved up to the No. 4 spot after batting sixth or lower all season—singled him in.
Arizona had seven 2-out RBI, which Johnson has repeatedly referred to this season as “golden.”
The Rebels tied it in the third when, after TJ Nichols came on for Netz after he allowed a leadoff single, Nichols allowed a double to Hayden Leatherwood to put two on with none out. A sacrifice fly tied the game at 1 but then Nichols got a flying and a strikeout to limit the damage.
“Giving up the double was kind of a punch in the gut a little bit, but then I locked in and made my pitches,” said Nichols, who ended up allowing a run and three hits over 5.1 innings with seven strikeouts. “I didn’t change my plan. It was important to make sure both of them didn’t score.”
Johnson said the plan was for Nichols to only go one time through the order, part of a script that would have involved as many as seven Wildcats pitching on Sunday. Netz was only supposed to go the first five or six batters, but Johnson said he got “greedy” and let him start the third. Nichols was only supposed face Ole Miss’ order once, but Arizona’s offensive explosion in the middle innings prompted him to throw out the script.
“I like the way that worked out a lot better than how it was scripted in my head,” he said.
The UA retook the lead in the bottom of the 3rd on a 2-run home run by Berry, his 17th of the year. An inning later it was Holgate with a 2-run blast to right, his 10th of the year, giving Arizona three players with 10 or more homers for the first time since 2008 and starting a 7-run barrage that eliminated any chance of an Ole Miss comeback.
“And then we were kind of off and running,” Johnson said. “It was just an assault of quality at-bats. I thought our field was put to bed appropriately for this season, given the quality of these players and these hitters in this offense.”
Williams made it 6-1 with an RBI double, then two batters later Boissiere doubled off the base of the left field wall to bring in three more runs. A 2-out double up the first base line by Kato made it 10-1.
Arizona added three more in the fifth on an RBI double by Berry and a two-run single from Boissiere. Kato added a 2-run double in the 7th and Berry drove in his fourth run—giving him a UA freshman-record 70—with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
“That was like Tony Gwynn-like,” Johnson said of Boissiere, who was 10 of 15 in the Super Regionals and is hitting a team-best .374.
Arizona now has 721 hits, tops in the NCAA, and are also No. 1 with 526. The Wildcats also have the most doubles (138) and triples (29) in the country but will open the CWS against a Vandy squad that is sixth nationally with a 3.37 ERA and has a pair of first-round picks in right-handed starters Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.
“It was meant to be,” said Johnson, who saw the potential of an Arizona/Vandy matchup in the CWS on Selection Sunday. “We know what they are. What a better way to start the College World Series than that.”