CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Arizona waited longer than almost any other team to make its debut in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Now its stay could be over nearly before it started.
The Wildcats fell 7-4 to Ole Miss late Saturday night, the final opening-round game of the tourney that was pushed back multiple times due to a tropical system that passed over south Florida. The loss drops them into the loser’s bracket and an elimination game against Canisius that is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. PT Sunday, less than 10 hours after their first game ended.
Ole Miss, which was the last team to make the 64-team field, scored twice in the seventh and three times in the eighth. The go-ahead hit was a 2-out, bases-clearing double by Peyton Chatagnier, whose 2-run home run in the seventh tied the game at 4.
Arizona (37-24) twice held 2-run leads but struggled at the plate overall, finishing with seven hits. It struck out a season-high 20 times, including three in a row in the bottom of the ninth after bringing the tying run to the plate with no out.
“We probably just were a little amped up tonight, swung at some pitches that we shouldn’t,” Arizona coach Chip Hale said. “We have to learn from it. It’s not who we are.”
The Rebels (34-22) drew three walks off Arizona pitchers in the eighth, the first two off Jayvn Pimental. Pimental came out without retiring a batter, then Trevor Long walked a third with one out. He struck out catcher Hayden Dunhurst, but then after starting 0-2 against Chatagnier he couldn’t put the Ole Miss second baseman away, and on a 2-2 count and two foul balls Chatagnier pulled one down the left field line.
Pimental, a left-hander, started the seventh after righty Quinn Flanagan got the final out of the seventh in relief of UA starter Garrett Irvin. Hale brought him in to face Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez, a left-handed hitter.
“Left-handers are much better against (Flanagan), and Javyn’s been throwing the ball really well for us, so we felt like that was the right matchup,” Hale said. “It didn’t work out.”
Irvin didn’t walk any over 6.2 innings, the first time he’s done that this season, and his nine strikeouts tied a season high. But he also gave up a pair of 2-run homers, the first to Gonzalez that tied the game at 2.
“Both of them were bad pitches,” Irvin said. “Their whole lineup is very good, and you can’t really make mistakes against their lineup and if you do, you gotta miss down. And both of them, I knew what their strengths were and I pretty much did exactly what you’re not supposed to do.”
Combined with the four homers he allowed in 4.1 innings against Stanford in the Pac-12 tourney last week, six of the nine bombs he’s yielded this season have come in the last two of his 16 starts.
“I thought Irvin was terrific,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “First time through our lineup I think he struck out all our right-handed hitters. He was tough for us.”
Arizona went up 2-0 in the second on a pair of solo home runs, both to the opposite field. Chase Davis, who had to leave the Wildcats’ last game after injuring his left shoulder on a catch against the wall, hit one to left to lead off the inning, then with one out Garen Caulfield went deep to right.
Ole Miss tied it in the fourth on a 2-run homer by Gonzalez, who also hit two against Arizona in the Super Regionals last year in Tucson.
The UA retook the lead in the sixth with some 2-out magic. Tanner O’Tremba, who was called out looking in his previous at-bat, reached for a slider out of the zone and managed to poke it to right for a double. After an intentional walk to Davis, Tony Bullard roped a double to left-center just out of the reach of Ole Miss’ TJ McCants, scoring O’Tremba and Davis to put Arizona up 4-2.
“He just left the fastball out over the plate, and with two strikes I just tried to battle and I was able to put a good swing on it,” Bullard said.
Of Arizona’s 20 strikeouts, 12 came against Ole Miss starter Dylan DeLucia, a career high for the righty.
“They swung at good pitches,” said DeLucia, the latest opposing pitcher to terrorize Arizona with a slider this season. “We just didn’t kind of overthrow it. We just wanted to throw it in there for a strike and then kept biting at it.”
Ole Miss relievers Josh Mallitz and Brandon Johnson fanned eight more over the final three innings, with Johnson striking out Tommy Splaine, Noah Turley and Mac Bingham after giving up a walk and a single to open the ninth.
All told, only seven of Arizona’s 27 outs were recorded on a ball put in play.
Hale said the uncertainty of when Arizona would play its first game may have contributed to his team’s offensive output. It was originally set for Friday night, then moved up a few hours only to have the entire first day wiped out because of rain, then Saturday’s start time went from the late afternoon to after 10 p.m. local time.
By the time the Wildcats and Rebels got underway, 15 schools had already been eliminated from the tournament.
“It’s disappointing that we came out that way,” he said. “We sat in the hotel for a long time. We waited for this. We knew this was gonna happen coming here. I mean, everybody in the United States of America saw there was a tropical storm on its way here. We were prepared for that. We were prepared to try to battle it. We just didn’t handle it very well.”
In order to win the Coral Gables Regional, Arizona must win four consecutive games, two on Sunday. If the Wildcats get past Canisius, which lost 11-6 to regional host Miami after leading 4-1, they’d play the Miami/Ole Miss loser on Sunday night.
“I just want to keep playing no matter what,” Bullard said. “We’re not done yet.”
Hale said sophomore righty TJ Nichols will start against the Golden Griffins (29-24). Nichols is coming off a solid 6-inning performance against ASU in the Pac-12 tourney.
“I’m excited to watch him pitch,” Irvin said of Nichols. “I think it’s a great matchup, and he’s headed in the right direction over these last few weeks. So I’m very excited to see him hopefully go nine tomorrow. And then we play later.”