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Pac-12 Baseball Tournament: Stanford’s bats send Arizona to loser’s bracket, will face ASU in elimination game

arizona-wildcats-baseball-recap-stanford-cardinal-pac12-tournament-irvin-asu-elimination-2022 Arizona Athletics

The Stanford team that Arizona swept at home back in March is long gone. The one the Wildcats faced on Thursday night looks a lot like the group that knocked them around (and out of) the College World Series last season.

The top-seeded Cardinal pounded Arizona’s pitchers into submission, blasting five home runs as part of a 21-hit effort in a 15-8 win in the Pac-12 Tournament at Scottsdale Stadium.

No. 5 Arizona (36-22) drops into the loser’s bracket, where it will take on No. 8 ASU (26-31) in an elimination game at 3 p.m. PT Friday. Win that and the Wildcats would face Stanford on Saturday, needing to beat the Cardinal twice to reach the Pac-12 title game.

Stanford (39-14) won its 14th consecutive win—30th in 36 games since leaving Tucson a little more two months ago—despite its ace, Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Alex Williams, having one of his worst outings of the season. It didn’t matter when eight Stanford players had at least two hits and the bottom five in the order combined for 14 hits.

The Cardinal knocked Arizona left-hander Garrett Irvin out after 4.1 innings, hitting three solo homers in the first two three innings (including back-to-back shots in the second) and tagging him for a career-worst seven runs and 10 hits.

“He really didn’t locate like he can,” Arizona coach Chip Hale said of Irvin. “They had a good game plan. They really used the other side of the field on his fastball, and then some of his off speed stuff they pulled. You have to keep it in the ballpark, and we didn’t. This is a really hot team we played. They played well against us last time, we pitched a little better.”

Williams had allowed an unearned run on three hits over seven innings when he faced Arizona in the regular season, but on Thursday the Wildcats’ game plan was to build up his pitch count. The first 13 UA hitters looked at the first pitch, with nine of the first 10 taking at least two in a row to start the at-bat.

“That was just guys recognizing the strike zone,” Hale said. “These guys have faced him a bunch ... so they’ve seen a lot of him. So I think they were very comfortable with facing him.”

That approach paid off in the third when Tony Bullard, the first one to swing at the first pitch, fouled off six Williams offerings before singling home two runs. Noah Turley’s 2-out single tied the game at 3, giving Irvin a clean slate.

Then came the turning point in the game. With a runner on first and two out, Irvin didn’t get a call on an 0-2 pitch to No. 8 hitter Eddie Park, who singled after that. No. 9 hitter Adam Crampton followed with a single, loading the bases, then leadoff man Brock Jones drove in two with a single to put Stanford up 5-3.

The Cardinal scored three in the fifth, two on Kody Huff’s second homer of the game that chased Irvin. Tanner O’Tremba hit a solo homer in the fifth to get Arizona within 8-4, and a few batters later Garen Caulfield singled with two out to send Williams to the dugout. The eight hits allowed were a season high and the four earned runs were one more than in his previous eight combined starts.

But a 5-run sixth for Stanford put the game away, an assault against Chandler Murphy and George Arias Jr. that included a 3-run blast by Drew Bowser, his second of the game.

Arizona avoided being mercy ruled—the tourney calls it off if a team leads by 10 or more after seven—by scoring twice in the seventh and eighth and finished with 14 hits. Bullard was 3 for 4 with three RBI, O’Tremba had three hits and every Wildcat either had a hit or drove in a run.

“Offensively, we have no issues with anything that happened,” Hale said. “It was a great offensive performance against a really good team.”

The last few innings were reminiscent of a 12-9 home loss to Oregon State two weeks ago, in which the UA scored four late runs after falling behind big. It carried that momentum over the next two days to beat the Beavers twice and take the series.

“We’re a resilient team, and I think our team is really good at flushing the day before,” said O’Tremba, who played half the game with a cut lip after Stanford’s last home run ball ricocheted off a wall and smacked him in the face. “We’re a resilient group and we’ve been taught to be that way.”

Arizona and ASU have split four meetings this season, with the Wildcats taking two of three conference games at Hi Corbett Field and the Sun Devils winning a single nonconference tilt in Phoenix. Sophomore righty TJ Nichols (5-4, 5.47) will start for the UA while ASU is likely to go with righty Adam Tulloch (2-4, 8.03).

Both Nichols and Tulloch went 4.2 innings in Arizona’s 7-6, 10-inning win on April 22, a game that ended with a Chase Davis walk-off homer.