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Arizona baseball gets ‘clean’ performances to beat Washington State, avoiding sweep

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It’s unrealistic to expect not to give up hits, but all the other ways that batters can get on base are completely preventable. Arizona hadn’t done that in its previous three games, resulting in the first real losing streak of the season.

On Sunday, it managed to minimize those free and extra bases, beating Washington State 5-2 at Hi Corbett Field to salvage the final of a 3-game set.

“It’s very simple: if we play clean, if we allow our defenders to play and they make plays and we don’t give them free passes, I think we usually are in pretty good shape,” coach Chip Hale said.

Five Arizona pitchers combined to allow just one walk, tied for the second-fewest this season, and one hit batter, while the Wildcats’ lone error in the field did not lead to a run. During their 3-game losing streak coming in, they had issued 12 walks, hit six batters and had six errors lead to 10 unearned runs.

Right-hander Chandler Murphy, who was expected to be part of the weekend rotation before the season, made his first non-weekday appearance and threw five scoreless innings. The sophomore, who developed a forearm issue in the fall and didn’t make his 2022 debut until mid-March, allowed five hits and struck out two on 70 pitches.

“I feel more comfortable on the mound now,” said Murphy, who would consider himself 100 percent if not for still being on a pitch count. “I didn’t throw off the mountain for, shoot, was it four months or something like that? It’s definitely a different atmosphere on the mound and I feel great out there.”

Freshman Anthony Susac, who has alternated between a starter and a long reliever, threw the next 2.2 innings, when after Eric Orloff and George Arias Jr. finished off the eighth it was Trevor Long in the ninth to get his second save. Long allowed one hit to lower his ERA to 1.04, allowing runs in only two of his 14 appearances.

Not bad for a guy who, during his freshman year in 2021, had his final outing in mid-April when, at Washington State, he was asked to be the sacrificial lamb and ended up allowing nine runs and 12 hits in four innings of a 21-2 loss.

“I think it’s just been a lot of hard work and confidence within the weight room,” Long said of his strong sophomore season. “I’ve gained a lot of weight and I’ve gained a lot of just ability to throw harder, obviously, and move better with my body, and I think that’s allowed me to develop my off-speed better and allow my fastball to play more. I also think it’s a confidence thing, I believe completely in myself right now. And I think that when I’m on the mound, I can get anybody out at any time.

Long has 12 strikeouts in 17.1 innings, but he said punchouts aren’t a priority.

“This year I’m really just trusting my defense,” he said. “I’m not worried about striking people out, I’m worried about throwing it in the strike zone, letting them hit it and letting my defense get me out, and then come into the dugout with as much momentum as possible.”

A blustery day at Hi Corbett saw most fly balls get caught in the wind, with no chance of getting out. The exception was a line-drive solo home run by Daniel Susac to lead off the bottom of the fifth, putting Arizona up 5-0.

Susac had his 21st multi-hit game of the season, going 2 for 4 to raise his average to .392, while seven other UA starters had a hit. That included Cameron LaLiberte, who in his second start was 1 for 3 with a double, walk and two runs scored.

Arizona is back in action Tuesday night for a nonconference game against New Mexico State. Righty Dawson Netz, who had been the Sunday starter before experiencing tendonitis, is tentatively slated to start for the Wildcats.