Back in February, Arizona probably hoped that if things went its way it could be in position to clinch a regular-season conference title at home on the final weekend of the regular season.
It wasn’t a title, but the Wildcats did clinch something Friday that kept alive many of their other goals.
The UA beat USC 6-3 at Hi Corbett to complete a doubleheader sweep, and in doing so locked up a spot in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Scottsdale. The Wildcats (30-22, 12-17) will be no worse than the No. 8 seed.
“I think we’re playing our best baseball right now,” said UA coach Chip Hale, whose team has 16 of its last 25 and 10 of the last 17 conference games after a 3-10 start.
Unlike the first game of the doubleheader, where Arizona pounded USC (32-22-1, 16-13) into submission with a 13-4 win, this time it took a little more finessing. Trojans starter Caden Aoki had the Wildcats bats off balance with his change-up the first time through the order, but in the third they started to time it and connect.
Three straight singles led to a 1-0 advantage, then a groundout and another single made it 3-0.
The UA led 4-0 going to the sixth when starter Bradon Zastrow ran into some trouble, leaving with runners on the corners and no out for Dawson Netz. Netz struggled, allowing both inherited runners to score and giving up a third before Eric Orloff came in and shut down the USC rally.
Then came “the biggest at-bats of the game,” per Hale.
Tony Bullard, who had four hits and a home run in the first game, smacked his 10th homer of the season to open the bottom of the sixth, and two batters later Corona followed with his 10th bomb and third in as many games.
. . .— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 20, 2023
Tony Bullard and Emilio Corona have homered in both halves of today's doubleheader! #BearDown pic.twitter.com/lCeHdOb4y6
“I think we have arguably the best lineup in the Pac-12,” said Corona, whose 10 homers have come in only 31 games since he was platooning in right field for the first half of the season. “I mean, I think we expected more from ourselves all year, and so to finally put ourselves in a position to make the postseason I think is awesome. And I think we’re kind of clicking at the right time.”
Both of those homers were against Aoki, who was the reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week. The previous conference honoree, Blake Sodersten, gave up three of the UA’s four homers in the first game.
The last 2 @pac12 Pitcher of the Week winners vs. Arizona today:— Brian Pedersen (@realBJP) May 20, 2023
9.2 IP, 17 H, 14 ER, 4 BB, 11 K, 5 HR
ith the lead back to three, Hale turned to Trevor Long, who had been on the losing end of a couple walk-offs in his last few multi-inning appearances. But Long retired all six Trojans he faced to pick up his fifth save of 2023 and 12th of his career, tying him for ninth on the school career list.
“These are big situation games and we’re executing well, that’s the biggest thing,” Long said. “I think that if we keep going with this confidence, this team could achieve some special stuff.”
Right-hander Aiden May will start for Arizona in the regular-season finale on Saturday. Before the 6 p.m. PT start the Wildcats will honor eight seniors:
- RHP Chris Barraza
- OF Mac Bingham
- 3B Tony Bullard
- OF Tyler Casagrande
- RHP Derek Drees
- SS Nik McClaughry
- C/OF Colton Moore
- RHP Dawson Netz