Every baseball game is just a little bit different from all the other ones, but the last two for Arizona have been pretty darn similar.
An early 3-run deficit, followed by a rally later on to tie it and then eventually go ahead for good in its final at-bat. But instead of walking off Nevada in the ninth, the Wildcats scored the winning runs in the eighth and then had to hold on for a 7-6 victory on Friday night at Hi Corbett Field.
It was the UA’s 13th win this season when the opponent scores first, fifth when trailing or tied after seven innings and eighth (in 10 tries) in 1-run games. Overall it improved the Wildcats, who have won four in a row and seven of eight, to 31-13.
Arizona scored three in the bottom of the eighth, getting the first four batters on base as Nevada (21-19) made multiple mid-batter pitching changes. Garen Caulfield singled through the left side with the bases loaded, breaking a 4-4 tie, with Daniel Susac adding a run on a sacrifice fly that proved to be the game-winner after closer Trevor Long gave up two in the top of the ninth to end his scoreless streak at 15 innings.
UA coach Chip Hale called Caulfield, one of the few players who joined the program after last summer’s coaching change, “super clutch” in going 2 for 4 in the No. 9 hole, raising his average to .273. In three games this week Caulfield is 6 for 12 with six RBI and his first career home run.
“I think he just has a good idea of what he can hit,” Hale said of Caulfield, who came to Arizona after spending two seasons at a junior college but not playing due to COVID. “He gets a good pitch to hit, uses the middle of the field and when they try to beat him in he’s good at hitting it in that hole. He’s done a few times.”
Like it did in Thursday’s 6-5 win, Arizona fell behind 3-0 in the second. It could have only been 1-0, but with two out UA starter TJ Nichols hit a batter to extend the inning, then a low liner to center got past Mac Bingham as he tried to dive for it, bringing in a run, and another single plated a third run.
Both Wildcats took responsibility for that play, with Bingham blaming his unwillingness to dive for a ball in front of him on Thursday impacting his decision-making, while Nichols saying if he hadn’t allowed the batter to put the ball in play the situation wouldn’t have occurred.
Bingham atoned for his miscue in the bottom of the second, blasting a 2-run home run to left. It was his fourth homer of the season and helped raise his average to .284 after hitting .176 early in March while still coming back from a shoulder injury that kept him out of fall practice.
“I think I was just kind of late going and I started to get on a roll as a season went on and I think that’s kind of what you’re seeing,” said Bingham, who has reached base safely in 30 straight games.
Nichols went seven innings, allowing four runs and seven hits with two walks, two hit batters and six strikeouts. He had allowed 16 runs, 25 hits and nine walks in his previous three starts, spanning only 14 innings, and said part of his issues were mechanical.
“I was just working on my lower half and kicking out with my leg a little bit towards third base, and then sticking the landing with a good finish,” Nichols said. “The last three weekends I’ve been pulling it across the play and it’s just because of a weak lower half and I’m just trying to figure that out right now.”
Staying calm, while being an emotional player, has also been part of his in-season changes.
“That’s been preached to me since I got here, and it’s hard to do,” he said. “But I feel like the more I do it, the better I get at it. Just handling adversity is something that’s huge in college baseball. I think (being emotional) is a good part of my game. I think when it gets bad I need to find a way to turn the page, but I’m an emotional guy, so when I pitch with emotion I feel like I’m better. That’s just me.”
Arizona used three relievers after Nichols, but the first, right-hander Chris Barraza, lasted only three pitches before leaving with the trainer. Hale said Barraza was tight, and that his velocity was much lower than in his last outing when he struck out all four batters he faced.
Long, who got the final out of the eighth, allowed two runs in the ninth after allowing a one-out walk, a hit batter, a sacrifice fly and a single. It was his 21st appearance of the season and 10th in 19 April games, and he picked up the win for the second night in a row to go to 5-0.
“I think you saw a little bit of a cumulative effect on Trevor tonight, having to sit down and go back out with a 3-run lead,” Hale said. “He came back, he just wasn’t the same guy he was in the 8th. He’s probably a little bit tired. Even tired he’s our best guy in the 9th.”
Lefty Garrett Irvin will start for Arizona in Saturday’s 1 p.m. PT start.