MESA—You see something new every day at the baseball park.
Arizona had to come from behind twice to beat UC-San Diego on Monday afternoon, the first immediately after seeing head coach Chip Hale and third base coach Toby DeMello get ejected, scoring all its runs in the final four innings including four in the ninth in a 9-8 victory.
The win gave the Wildcats a 3-1 record at the MLB Desert Invitational, including a season-opening victory over preseason No. 2 Tennessee.
“It’s why you play nine innings,” assistant coach Trip Couch said afterward. “They just stuck to it. They’re old guys, they know how to play.”
Kiko Romero’s lined single just inside the third base bag scored Nik McClaughry to put the UA in front for the second time, then Mac Bingham gave Arizona a 9-5 lead with a 3-run home run. The Wildcats ended up needing those extra runs, as UCSD scored three times in the bottom of the ninth.
Bingham’s homer, the fourth this season by a UA player, helped atone for a fielding miscue he had in the seventh, which enabled the Tritons (1-3) to go up 5-4.
“You gotta have amnesia in this game,” said Couch, who is Arizona’s recruiting coordinator and first base coach but who had to move to third after the ejections. “It’s the next play.”
It felt more like deja vu early, though, as Arizona had only two hits over the first five innings against UCSD right-hander Anthony Eyanson. The game was eerily resembling Saturday’s 5-0 loss to Fresno State, but once Eyanson exited the game the Wildcats’ hitting fortunes changed.
“Saturday we kind of fell behind and stayed behind, but today seemed like guys were trying to get the hitting going,” said catcher Cameron LaLiberte, who had three hits and drove in three quadrupling his career RBI total. “We’re always trying to get the hitting going, but like in the beginning of the game, we were struggling, kind of popping up a lot. And then Chip brought us together and said we gotta keep it out of the air, hit the ball hard and low, and we’ll get on base.”
Arizona’s first comeback began in the 6th when Tony Bullard doubled with two outs to score Nik McClaughry. An inning later, the Wildcats went ahead thanks to four straight 1-out hits, but that was just the prelude to the real excitement.
Following a tying 2-run double by LaLiberte and a go-ahead single from pinch hitter Tyler Casagrande, DeMello said something that irked third base umpire Travis Eggert, who emphatically tossed him. That prompted Hale to come out of the dugout and defend his assistant, eventually resulting in his ejection.
Yes, you read that right: they were tossed after taking the lead.
“Usually it’s done when you’re behind and trying to spark some things,” Couch said of the ejections. “But Chip has faith in these guys. Chip’s has trained these guys well that I would like to think that, if none of us were out here with them, they’re old enough. I think these guys can (handle) a little bit of adversity.”
The Wildcats couldn’t add to their lead following a lengthy delay as DeMello and Hale left the field, and the advantage didn’t last long.
UCSD got its first three batters on base in the bottom of the seventh against Eric Orloff, the first two on singles and the third on an error. Bingham got under a fly ball in center field, which was going to be deep enough to score the tying run, but he dropped it, allowing the go-ahead run to move into scoring position.
The error proved costly, as a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly by the Tritons put them up 5-4.
Arizona tied it back up in the eighth on a 2-out infield single by LaLiberte, a slow dribbler toward third off the end of the bat that UCSD’s Matt Halbach charged but couldn’t glove, allowing Kiko Romero to score from third.
Trevor Long came on for the UA in the bottom of the eighth, allowing a single but erasing it with a 6-4-3 double play, setting the stage for the ninth-inning fireworks. His second frame was far less effective, though, allowing three runs and four hits before getting a lineout to Bingham in center to end it.
Arizona returns to Tucson for its next eight games, beginning with the home opener Friday night against West Virginia at Hi Corbett Field.
TJ Nichols wins Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week
Nichols’ stellar performance in the season-opening win over No. 2 Tennessee, in which he outdueled top MLB Draft prospect Chase Dollander, has earned him the first Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week award for 2023.
The junior righty allowed a run on three hits with six strikeouts over six innings, not allowing a hit over the final four-plus frames.
Nichols is Arizona’s first Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week since righty Dawson Netz won it during the opening week of the 2022 season.