With a travel-heavy road trip on the horizon, it was in the best interests for everyone involved with Arizona to get Tuesday night’s nonconference game against New Mexico State over as quickly as possible.
Then the opponent showed up late because of bus trouble, pushing the start time back 30 minutes, followed by a bullpen implosion that put the prospect of extra innings into play.
Garen Caulfield prevented that with a 2-run single in the bottom of the eighth, giving the UA a 4-2 win over NMSU at Hi Corbett Field. The Wildcats (23-10) finished their 4-game homestand at 2-2, winning the last two and taking momentum into a trip that begins with day games in Salt Lake City and finishes with nationally televised night tilts on the same field they played the College World Series on last June.
Arizona scored twice in the bottom of the first on a 2-run single by Chase Davis but the bats went cold for the next few innings. It didn’t matter, though, as three UA pitchers combined to allow three hits and a walk over the first seven innings. That included three innings of one-hit relief from freshman left-hander Eric Orloff, who lowered his ERA to 2.89.
“He just pitched his way into the rotation in a game,” UA coach Chip Hale said of Orloff. “He’s a guy that can pitch long for us. He’s the guy that can spot start. I mean, I wouldn’t be afraid to throw him out there on a Sunday and start him in Pac-12 play.”
Things went sideways in the top of the eighth when lefty closer Holden Christian, who had blown a save and gotten the loss in his previous two outings, couldn’t retire a batter. He hit the first with a 1-2 curveball, then allowed a single and a 2-run triple to tie the game before getting pulled.
In came righty Trevor Long, who inherited a runner on third and no outs and didn’t allow a run, striking out three while also hitting a batter and issuing an intentional walk. Long, who has only allowed five of 11 runners to score this season, followed that with a perfect ninth to improve to 2-0.
“He did well in the fall, this is not a surprise for us,” Hale said of Long, who in 2021 had a 10.66 ERA in 12.2 innings of work. “Once you get some swings on the slider in the dirt, you just keep going to it. The pitcher is the one that’s supposed to be under the pressure there. Bases loaded, nobody out, but a lot of times as hitters we just—we all did it, I did it—you just get so anxious and amped up to do something good that you forget your strike zone. So he read that and (catcher) Tommy (Splaine) and Dave Lawn, who was calling pitches, they saw that and just kept going to it.”
Arizona now hits the road for three games at Utah, all set for 10 a.m. PT starts, beginning Thursday. After Saturday’s finale the Wildcats fly to Omaha, where after having Easter Sunday off they’ll face Creighton on Monday and Tuesday night at Charles Schwab Field (formerly TD Ameritrade Park).