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Arizona baseball drops finale to USC to finish 8th, will face ASU in Pac-12 Tournament

arizona-wildcats-baseball-usc-trojans-recap-regular-season-finale-pac12-tournament-asu-scottsdale Arizona Athletics

With its next opponent assured, the only things left to determine for Arizona were what seed it would have for the Pac-12 Tournament and what time it would begin what it hopes is a run to an NCAA tourney appearance.

After falling 14-6 to USC on Saturday night at Hi Corbett Field in the regular-season finale, the Wildcats earned the No. 8 seed for the Pac-12 tourney. They’ll open pool play Tuesday at 10 a.m. PT against No. 5 ASU, facing No. 2 Oregon State on Wednesday.

The UA (30-23, 12-18) will need to win both games to advance to the tourney semifinals, which it reached last year when the inaugural event used an 8-team double-elimination format compared to three pools of three teams this time around.

“We’re excited to play anybody,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “We feel like we’re swinging the bats well. If we get the right guys on the mound, we’ll be fine. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We played everybody in the league. We’ve had big wins against some of them. We’ve had big losses. We’ve struggled against some teams. So we’ll see, we just have to play good baseball.”

Had Arizona won Saturday it would have gotten the No. 7 seed, and while it still would have played ASU first the second pool game would have been against No. 3 Washington. With that in mind, Hale opted to save right-hander Aiden May for Tuesday and go with a modified bullpen game.

TJ Nichols made his first start since March 31, and had the kind of outing that caused him to get dropped from the rotation. The junior righty struck out three of the first four batters he faced—reaching 200 for his career—but also allowed two long home runs and hit two batters in giving up four runs over three innings.

One of those homers was by Carson Wells, the younger brother of former UA catcher Austin Wells. He was 4 of 5 with three RBI.

Most of the Wildcats’ other arms used Saturday didn’t do much better.

Five of six relievers allowed at least a run each, with lefty Eric Orloff ending that trend with a scoreless ninth. None of the pitchers used had appeared in Friday’s doubleheader, though, so everyone in Arizona’s bullpen will have had an outing leading up to the Pac-12 tourney.

“We just have to pitch,” Hale said. “We pitch well we’re going to beat anybody in this conference.”

That was evident in the first half of Saturday’s game, as Arizona scored all six runs of USC starter Tyler Stromsborg. The Trojans (33-22-1, 17-13) entered the weekend with the top ERA in the conference but their starters, two of whom had won the last two Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week awards, combined to allow 20 runs in 14 innings.

Stromsborg was chased in the fifth after allowing three solo home runs in a span of four batters. Mac Bingham hit his 10th to lead off the inning, giving Arizona five players with 10 or more homers, then with 1 out Chase Davis and Kiko Romero went back-to-back.

Davis’ homer was his 19th this season, tops in the Pac-12, and 37th in his career to move into sole possession of third place in school history. Romero’s 17th was his 10th in league play, tying a school record, and he drove in two to give him 43 in the conference and 80 overall.

The 43 Pac-12 RBIs ties Nick Quintana for most in school history, and his 80 for the season are tied for 6th-most by a Wildcat.

“I think we’re a scary team, obviously,” Bingham said. “And I think a lot of guys are confident. Our record might not say so, but I think we have a lot of confident guys on this team and we feel good about going into the tournament.”

Bingham was one of eight players who participated in pregame Senior Day activities. He and reliever Dawson Netz have another year of eligibility but both could get drafted.

“I just thought, as a senior, I graduated in college, in academics, so I’m just gonna walk out as a senior,” said Bingham, who was 4 for 5 and raised his average to .364.

Including Bingham, Arizona had four seniors start. They combined to go 9 for 17.

“When I came here last year, they took to me and the staff really well, and it’s not easy when coaches change,” Hale said of his seniors. “They’ve never stopped playing hard, even when we struggled. When we had the losing streaks, I felt like they always hustled and did their best and led the way seniors were supposed to lead.”