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Oregon State wears down Arizona baseball’s pitching to pull away late in series opener

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For seven innings, Arizona hung with the best team in the Pac-12, getting to the top pitcher in the conference in the process. But eventually Oregon State showed why it’s running away with the league title.

The second-ranked Beavers scored seven runs in the top of the eighth, their patient and pesky approach at the plate making Arizona’s pitchers work overtime all night in a 12-9 loss on Friday night at Hi Corbett Field.

OSU (40-9, 19-6 Pac-12) forced forced five Arizona arms to throw 233 pitches, with 28 of 53 Beavers seeing at least five pitches in their at-bats, and issued a season-high 10 walks. They saw 55 in the eighth inning alone against Trevor Long and Holden Caulfield, with 11 batters combining to foul off 18 pitches that frame.

“That’s why they’re so good, they’re disciplined,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “We wiggled out of some jams there before the big inning for them.”

Early on it looked like the stars were aligning for Arizona (33-18, 14-11) to pull off the upset. It scored twice in the bottom of the first off OSU ace Cooper Hjerpe, a long and lanky left-hander who entered with an 8-1 record, 2.08 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 73.2 innings.

The Wildcats knocked him out after 4.1 innings, his shortest outing of the season, tagging him for five runs (four earned) and seven hits.

“I think the amount of time and effort we put into him, in my opinion, was the most we put in on a pitcher all year,” UA catcher Daniel Susac said. “We knew it was gonna be a tough one. We knew he’s a deceptive guy, comes out there from really far out. A lot of ride. We just stuck to our plan of getting (pitches) over the middle, inside of the plate, because if it’s away it’s going to run on you and probably won’t have a better chance at that.”

Arizona also took advantage of some defensive miscues from the top fielding team in the Pac-12, though it also had two runners tagged out at third base in the third when it was down 4-2.

OSU scored four runs in the third and another in the fourth to lead 5-2, doing so off UA starter TJ Nichols, who walked five and threw 107 pitches in five innings. Quinn Flanagan then needed 51 pitches to get through 1.1 innings and Long threw 39 in one-plus as OSU loaded the bases in the sixth, seventh and eighth.

A pinch-hit single by Jake Dukart, on the 10th pitch he saw from Long, put the Beavers up 7-5. After Long walked the next batter, Christian came in and walked in a run before later allowing a grand slam to Garret Forrester to make it 12-5.

“It’s just tough to keep executing,” Hale said of his pitchers. “We talk to our hitters all the time, the deeper you get into the at-bat, the more quality pitches they have to make against you.”

Arizona made the final score respectively by scoring four runs over the final two innings, getting solo home runs from Noah Turley—the first pinch-hit homer for a UA player since Ryan Archibald in February 2019—in the eighth and Tanner O’Tremba in the ninth as well as an RBI double from Mac Bingham and a Turley sacrifice fly in the ninth.

While those late runs didn’t impact this game, they could impact the rest of the weekend, as top reliever Ben Ferrer ended up going four innings and then OSU had to bring in closer Ryan Brown for the final three batters in what at that point was still a 5-run game.

“That’s their best starter and I think their two best bullpen arms, I think that builds a lot of confidence within the team, those late at-bats, not giving them up, fighting all the way to the end,” Susac said. “A lot of times you score nine runs you’re gonna win a lot of ball games, it wasn’t one of those tonight.”

Arizona will try to even the series Saturday at 6 p.m. PT with senior lefty Garrett Irvin (4-3, 2.79) making his final start at Hi Corbett. The Wildcats are 25-9 in Irvin’s career when he starts, and they’ve gone 8-3 in his starts the day after a loss.

“I’m super confident in him,” Susac said. “I always have been always will be. I came up to (Irvin) right after the game, I said, ‘let’s go win a game tomorrow, set the tone for Sunday.’”