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Poor defense, inexperienced pitching doom Arizona baseball in home opener

arizona-wildcats-baseball-grand-canyon-recap-home-opener-chip-hale-pac12-2022 Arizona Athletics

Arizona’s sweep of a tournament in Texas over the weekend made for an impressive start to the Chip Hale era. Tuesday was an indication that it won’t always be that easy.

The 11th-ranked Wildcats were crushed 19-3 by Grand Canyon in their home opener on Tuesday night. The crowd of 2,766 fans at Hi Corbett Field saw Arizona lose its first home opener since 2003 and allow the most runs at home in nearly three years as it struggled in all facets of the game, each of which looked solid in wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown.

“They just beat our butt,” Hale said. “They played really well, they’re a good team, they’re well coached. And we just didn’t do anything. Pitching, hitting, fielding, we just didn’t do it tonight. And they pretty much took us out of the game early.”

Arizona’s infield defense, which was solid over the weekend, let the Wildcats (3-1) down in the home opener. The UA committed six errors, five by fielders either playing out of position or at one they’re still learning, the most errors in a game since March 2019.

First baseman Noah Turley, who played DH at Yavapai College, had two throwing errors during a 3-run second in which every run was unearned and finished the night with with three errors.

“It was a bad game for him,” Hale said of Turley. “Everybody has a bad game. It’s life.”

Tyler Casagrande, an outfielder by trade who has started all four games at second base, booted a grounder in the fifth, while third baseman Garen Caulfield—who was playing there instead of second for injured 3B Tony Bullard—short-hopped a throw to 1st with 1 out in the sixth that led to a 5-running inning for Grand Canyon (2-2).

Arizona used seven pitchers, six of them freshmen and five of which were making their collegiate debut including the first three. That gave giving up 17 hits including three home runs, two by Grand Canyon No. 9 hitter Jonny Weaver, and all seven pitchers allowed at least one run.

Left-hander Eric Orloff, lasted only 1.2 innings and gave up four runs (three unearned) but none of the five singles he allowed were hit hard. Freshman righty Tommy Splaine allowed two runs in 1.1 innings, then lefty Javyn Pimental looked sharp through two innings but fell apart in his third after Caulfield’s error.

Fourth pitcher Chris Barraza, a graduate transfer from New Mexico State, allowed a grand slam that made it 11-1, then freshman lefty Drew Calloway gave up four runs in the seventh. Freshman lefty Reed Schaefer allowed two runs in the eighth, then freshman righty Josh Randall gave up two in the ninth.

“It’s what we had,” Hale said. “We were in a situation where we played three games on the weekend, we’re at Tuesday and we’re not going to start any of our starters, our weekend (pitchers). We knew that this was going to be a situation where we are going to try to see what we can do on these Tuesday games. Those guys that pitched tonight are gonna have to pitch again and they gonna have to pitch better.

“You hope that they’ll be able to flush this game and come back and do better next time.”

The Wildcats, who scored 35 runs in three games in Texas, managed just five hits and struck out 14 times. Grand Canyon lefty Connor Markl kept them off balance with his off-speed stuff, striking out eight in five innings.

“The majority of those off speed pitches that we swung out were probably balls today, so that’s the mistake we made,” Hale said. “In Texas, we did a pretty good job of laying off balls and swinging at strikes.”

Catcher Daniel Susac had three hits, giving him eight in four games, and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Tanner O’Tremba had a 2-run single in the seventh to give him nine RBI for the season.

Arizona continues a 10-game homestand on Thursday when it begins a 4-game series with Milwaukee. Freshman righty Anthony ‘Tonko’ Susac will make his first start after pitching in relief in the season opener.