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Arizona falls to Vanderbilt in extra innings to open College World Series

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arizona v Vanderbilt Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

OMAHA—Arizona waited five years to get back to the College World Series, so it decided to make up for lost time by playing one of the longest games in series history.

For the Wildcats, it probably felt like forever after falling 7-6 to Vanderbilt in 12 innings on Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park.

A bases-loaded single by Vandy No. 9 hitter Jayson Gonzalez through a drawn-in infield scored Isaiah Thomas with the winning run, ending the fourth-longest game in CWS history at 4 hours, 51 minutes.

With the loss, Arizona (45-17) falls into the loser’s bracket, where it will face Stanford in an elimination game at 11 a.m. PT Monday. The Cardinal, which lost 10-4 to North Carolina State earlier Saturday, took two of three from the UA in Palo Alto in early May.

The UA, making its first CWS appearance since 2016, has lost four consecutive 1-run games in Omaha, including all three of their losses from that last trip.

Vandy (46-15) actually loaded the bases with one out in both the 11th and 12th innings, failing to get anything done the first time. The second time saw the Commodores get a pair of infield singles off Vince Vannelle, Arizona’s sixth pitcher, then after a foul out a walk to Javier Vaz loaded them for Gonzalez, who finished 3 for 5 with a home run and three RBI.

“I thought they got a string of quality at-bats one more time than we did and that’s why they are who they are,” UA coach Jay Johnson said of the Commodores, who are defending CWS champs.

Arizona lost despite being able to solve Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker, getting to him for five runs (three earned) in 5.2 innings. It jumped on Rocker right out of the gate, putting the first three runners on via an error and back-to-back doubles by Jacob Berry and Branden Boissiere to go up 2-0, then Daniel Susac’s 2-out single made it 3-0.

But then the next 15 Wildcats failed to reach base, with Rocker—who threw 36 pitches in the first—settling in and striking out seven during that span. That allowed Vanderbilt to withstand the early brushback pitch and battle back.

“He kind of kicked it into another gear,” Johnson said of Rocker. “As detailed as we put work into it, as good as our guys have been at that, he kind of found another gear. And so you tip your hat to him and it’s why he’s going to be a very valued commodity and why he gets the attention that he gets. Somebody’s going to give that dude $7 million here in a couple of weeks.”

The Commodores scored once in the bottom of the first on a 2-out double by Troy LaNeve that left fielder Tyler Casagrande appeared to lose in the sun. The Commodores tied it in the fourth, also with two outs, on a bouncer up the middle by Javier Vaz that was followed by a 2-run home run by Gonzalez.

It was the first solid hit against Silseth, who went 6.1 innings and allowed four runs and seven hits with six strikeouts and a walk.

“That was the one pitch I would take away from the whole game,” Silseth said. “I thought that’s the one bad pitch I made.”

Arizona’s streak without reaching base ended with two outs in the sixth in a painful way, with Kobe Kato taking a fastball off the knee. Three pitches later, Ryan Holgate launched a 2-run homer to right that was such a no-doubter the Vandy RF didn’t move.

It was the first career postseason homer allowed by Rocker, who who allowed five runs (three earned) and five hits in 5.2 innings. The 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player had yielded only three earned runs in six previous postseason starts, spanning 42.2 IP, with a 6-0 record.

Silseth retired eight in a row after the Gonzalez homer before walking the same man with 1 out in the seventh on a pitch that seemed right down the middle. He was relieved by Preston Price, who after a passed ball gave up an RBI single to Enrique Bradfield Jr. to cut Arizona’s lead to 5-4.

Carter Young followed with a 2-run homer to right-center, putting the Commodores back up 6-5.

Johnson said the decision to go with Price, a right-hander, instead of lefty Riley Cooper to face Vandy left-handed bats Bradfield and Young was based on how they fared against Silseth.

“We liked what Chase had done against Bradfield and Young the first couple times through the order,” he saidl. “And (Price) was the most similar. And obviously being a fifth-year guy, we thought he’d be poised and come in and throw strikes and pitch down in the zone. And he left the fastball right over the middle of the plate and Young hit it.”

Susac led off the top of the ninth with a double, then with one out was replaced by pinch runner Mac Bingham. An infield single by Nik McClaughry gave the Wildcats runners on the corners for Donta’ Williams, who hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Bingham and tie it at 6.

Vandy had a chance to end it in the 11th, loading the bases with one out on an error, a walk and an intentional walk, but Vannelle came on for TJ Nichols and got a strikeout and a groundout to end the threat.

It was Arizona’s first extra-inning game in the CWS since 2012, when it beat Florida State 4-3 in 12 innings en route to its fourth national championship.

Arizona managed only two baserunner in extras, an 11th-inning walk by Hopson and a leadoff double by Williams—extending his on-base streak to 48 games—to start the 12th, while striking out seven more times. The Wildcats fanned 19 times overall, the most in a game this season.

The 29 combined strikeouts in the game were tied for the second-most in a CWS contest.

Arizona will try to avoid going 0-2 in the CWS for the first time since 1985. The Wildcats have only lost consecutive games three times this season, the last time in mid-April when they lost three in a row.

They came out of the loser’s bracket to make the championship series in 2016, but Johnson isn’t thinking much beyond Monday.

“I think if you look too much further beyond that, it complicates Monday,” he said. “And these guys love playing together and we want to continue to play together. And we want to keep going. I think we have enough pitching to work our way back through it. But it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is Monday. And so everything will be about Monday.”

Arizona’s postgame interviews