CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Arizona isn’t ready to leave the tropics just yet.
Down to their last strike, against one of the top closers in the country, the Wildcats rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth inning and then held on in the bottom of the frame to beat regional host Miami 4-3 on Sunday night at Alex Rodriguez Park.
The win eliminated the No. 6 national seed and advanced the UA into Monday’s regional final against Ole Miss at 10 a.m. PT. Arizona (39-24) would have to beat the Rebels (34-22) twice in order to win the Coral Gables Regional and make it to the Super Regionals for the second year in a row.
“We talked about this, just letting them play, and just letting it go and leaving everything they got on the field and do the best we can,” said UA coach Chip Hale, whose team had been 0-21 when trailing going into the ninth. “And they really did, they never stopped fighting, and I’m very proud.”
Tanner O’Tremba’s 2-run double put Arizona ahead for good, capping a 2-out rally against Miami closer Andrew Walters, who came in with a 1.14 ERA and only five runs allowed while striking out 60 batters in 31.2 innings. Walter struck out the first two Wildcats, who fanned 13 times, but then a hot shot by Nik McClaughry set the rally wheels in motion.
Miami shortstop Dominic Pitelli snared the sharp bouncer to his right, but despite plenty of time to plant and throw to end the game he rushed it and the ball sailed over the first baseman’s head. That brought up Daniel Susac, who had two hits but also two strikeouts.
Walter’s first pitch, a slider, went over Susac’s head—“I was not expecting that,” he said—to move McClaughry into scoring position, then after fouling off a couple fastballs he was pegged by an inside pitch.
“Right when I got hit I knew Tanner was going to pick us up,” Susac said. “That was the good part of it, having a great hitter behind you as well.”
O’Tremba laced a 1-1 fastball into the gap in right center, which scooted past Miami RF Zach Levenson and allowed McClaughry to tie the game and pinch-runner Tyler Casagrande to score from first with the winning run.
“I think the biggest thing you can do as a hitter in that situation, with a guy who is that good and throws that hard, is just try and hit something hard the other way,” said O’Tremba, who leads Arizona with 20 doubles. “Not trying to do too much, take a deep breath, and I think that was the biggest thing I told myself was give us a chance by putting the ball in play. Just staying on top and not trying to do too much was was the goal there.”
Arizona got within 3-2 thanks to a 2-out solo home run in the eighth by Tony Bullard. It was the Wildcats’ eighth homer in three regional games, including a solo blast by Mac Bingham that tied the game at 1 in the third.
Dating back the Pac-12 Tournament, Arizona has scored 21 of its 43 runs on homers. In the regional it had been just 3 for 23 with runners in scoring position until O’Tremba’s hit while striking out 42 times.
“It’s been all or nothing,” Hale said. “Those hits like (O’Tremba’s) are exciting, you get a guy on, you’re able to hit a gap and watch some guys run.”
Do-everything righty Quinn Flanagan closed the game out, his second save of the day and third appearance in as many regional games. He said the last time he pitched three times in less than 24 hours was in MLB The Show, and fatigue may have led to him giving up a leadoff single and then uncorking a wild pitch to move the potential tying run into scoring position.
“The whole time I felt under control; obviously the first couple of batters didn’t show that,” said Flanagan, whose 34 appearances this season are tied for 6th-most in school history.
Flanagan got the next Miami batter to fly to center, which advanced the runner to third, then after a strikeout he intentionally walked slugger Yohandy Morales. It was a wise move considering Morales had homered four times in the regional, including a 2-run shot in the sixth to put the Hurricanes (40-20) up 3-1, but Hale joked afterward that it wasn’t a textbook one.
“We did everything you’re not supposed to do, walking the go-ahead run, let him steal second,” he said. “I mean, a little blooper could have beat us.”
Instead, Flanagan got Renzo Gonzalez to ground to McClaughry at short, and after his throw to Noah Turley at first the entire Arizona dugout charged onto the field.
“I’d say the dugout was probably the loudest it’s been in the ninth inning all year,” Susac said.
Arizona held a Miami team that was hitting .290 and averaging 7.7 runs a game to four hits. Only one of those—a homer by CJ Kayfus on the first pitch of the bottom of the first—was allowed by started Dawson Netz over 4-plus innings.
Netz did walk two and hit two but none of those runs came in to score as Miami was 1 for 20 with runners on base including 0 for 11 with men in scoring position.
As for the plan for Monday, Hale said that would be decided between him and pitching coach Dave Lawn in the morning. The Wildcats could start righty Chandler Murphy or lefties Eric Orloff or Holden Christian; Christian is a reliever but opened both of the UA’s wins at Creighton in April and looked solid in that role.
Ole Miss is likely to throw junior righty Derek Diamond (4-4, 6.57). Arizona tagged Diamond for four runs including three homers, two by Bullard, in four innings in its Game 1 win over the Rebels in last year’s Super Regionals.