Leading 9-1 after two innings, all the signs pointed to Arizona easily winning for the sixth time overall and ninth in the last 11 games. But a half-inning later, mostly because of one unfortunate drop, the Wildcats suddenly had a battle on their hands.
The UA beat New Mexico 11-8 on Tuesday night for its eighth straight win at Hi Corbett Field, reaching double figures in hits for the 14th game in a row and getting to 10 runs for the fifth time on the 6-game win streak.
But despite what the final score would indicate, this win was due to the efforts of an Arizona pitching staff that may be starting to revert to its early-season form.
“I think we’ve kind of just flipped a switch,” said right-hander Chris Barraza, the last of eight pitchers used Tuesday.
Barraza earned the save, his first with Arizona (23-15) and second in five college seasons, with a scoreless ninth. That followed clean frames from Derek Drees, TJ Nichols and Dawson Netz after New Mexico (19-17) got within 9-8 in the fifth.
“Those are huge innings for our relievers,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “Those were impressive innings, and we need to pitch under pressure like that.”
Seven of eight UA pitchers had at least one strikeout, combining for 13, tied for the second-most this season, with starter Cam Walty getting two in his lone inning of work. Walty, who picked up the win, is scheduled to start Friday’s series opener at Oregon State.
Walty was relieved by Jackson Kent, the Friday night starter the previous two weeks, and after giving up a home run in the second he was one pitch away from a scoreless third when he got new Mexico’s Lenny Junior Ashby to fly to right. But Emilio Corona dropped the ball, allowing two runs to score, and then Kent allowed two more run-scoring singles before George Arias Jr. came in and let two more runs come in.
All six runs in the second were unearned, including a rare “team unearned run” allowed by Arias.
“They had the same situation,” Hale said of New Mexico, which had a 2-out error in the bottom of the second that kept Arizona’s 6-run inning going. “They had a play that should have been made, they didn’t make it, we capitalized and they did the same thing.
“A lot of times these midweek games, you think we want these (to be) like last week, 20-0 (against ASU). But this game will do a lot for us going into the weekend.”
Arizona scored three in the bottom of the first and six more in the second, collecting 10 hits in those frames as every Wildcat batter had at least one hit by the third. Six players had two hits and four drove in two, with Tony Bullard and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Chase Davis doing both.
Next up is a 4-game road trip, starting with three at Oregon State. The Beavers (27-13, 11-10) are in sixth place in the Pac-12, two games ahead of eighth-place Arizona.
“It’ll be a battle, both teams need to win these Pac-12 games,” Hale said.
The Wildcats, who are 18-6 at home, are 2-8 on the road this season but rallied to beat Washington State in their last road affair.