After Arizona’ 7-6 loss to Vanderbilt in its first game of the College World Series, coach Jay Johnson was quick to downplay the significance of a Monday elimination bracket downplay with Pac-12 foe Stanford.
The Cardinal, who dropped their CWS opener to North Carolina State 10-4, won two of three games from the Wildcats when the teams met in Palo Alto in early May.
“I think it’s a baseball game against Stanford and Arizona on Monday,” Johnson said matter-of-factly. “We want to win that game. We want to play our best in that game to give us an opportunity to win that game.”
Arizona should enter Monday’s game (11 a.m. PST, ESPN) with plenty of confidence. The Wildcats are starting Garrett ‘Gary’ Irvin, who was on the mound when Arizona walloped Stanford 20-2 in the Saturday afternoon second meeting of the teams’ three-game Pac-12 series.
UA lost the Friday, May 7 opener 5-4 in 13 innings and dropped the series finale 8-2, but it was the Saturday score that sent a message to Stanford and the rest of the nation: this Wildcats lineup can score in big numbers against anybody, anywhere.
Arizona’s bats exploded for nine runs in the first two innings, highlighted by second inning homers from Ryan Holgate and Daniel Susac.
The Wildcats had 16 runs by the fifth inning, including a homer and three-run triple from Nik McClaughry.
No matter which pitcher the Cardinal trotted out to the mound, it didn’t matter.
Stanford starter Quinn Matthews was knocked out of the game after just 1.1 innings, having given up five earned runs. The first reliever out of the bullpen allowed four runs. So did the next one. And so did the next one. And so did the one after that.
Ryan Bruno, Stanford’s fifth reliever of the game, got off easy by giving up just three runs (though he allowed six walks).
Irvin, meanwhile, was exceptional for Arizona, giving up just five hits over seven innings and striking out five.
The 18-run margin of victory was UA’s largest of the season, but it also appeared to motivate Stanford the following day.
Arizona started Austin Smith on the mound in the series finale, and the righty was able to mostly contain Stanford through 3.1 innings, allowing just one run on three hits.
The Cardinal broke the game open with a fifth inning two-run homer off TJ Nichols and then scored three more runs off Chandler Murphy. Riley Cooper and Vince Vannelle each gave up one run in the late innings.
Arizona’s offense, which had done so much damage 24 hours prior, was held in check by Stanford’s Alex Williams, who threw six scoreless innings.
Williams, a junior righty, is likely to start for Stanford again Monday. The former Freshman All-American is coming off a complete game two-hit shutout against Texas Tech in the Lubbock Super Regional last Saturday.
The series opener in Palo Alto might be more indicative of how Monday’s game plays out than either of the last two meetings.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 1-0 first inning lead on a Susac RBI single, which was the game’s only run through four innings.
Stanford plated home a run in the fifth on a bases loaded walk, then scored two more in the sixth on a RBI double and wild pitch. Arizona starter Chase Silseth left the game having allowed three runs over 5.1 innings.
Cardinal starter Brandan Beck limited Arizona’s bats until Mac Bingham tied the game 3-3 with a two-run single. Beck allowed three runs over 6.1 innings.
Jacob Berry’s seventh inning RBI single gave Arizona a short-lived lead, as Stanford tied the game in the 8th on a fielding error by UA second baseman Kobe Kato.
Both teams’ bullpens held the opposing lineup scoreless until Stanford hit a game-winning single in the 13th off Quinn Flanagan.
Three regular season meetings led to three disparate outcomes between Arizona and Stanford, making it hard to draw any tight conclusion on which team has the edge Monday. Only this much is certain: winner advances, loser goes home.