Facing adversity, the Arizona Baseball team needed to show up big time and that they did! The Wildcats secured their ticket to the Super Regionals!
Overcoming adversity is the words I would associate with this resilient team. From the beginning, not much was expected of this group. Head Coach Jay Johnson was hired as the new skipper, the recruiting had tailed off, and it was likely expected to be a transition year.
The 2016 Arizona Baseball team is all about the fight, they embody the school’s rallying cry (BearDown), and they have certainly proved that this weekend.
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Being selected as a No. 2 seed in the Louisiana-Lafayette Regional, the Wildcats definitely had their backs up against the wall, fighting off inclement weather, and just a single loss away from elimination.
Arizona opened regional play against a talented Sam Houston State team, and after several hours of rain delay, senior Nathan Bannister finally took the mound for the Wildcats in the elimination losers bracket game.
The Wildcats had beat this team in game one and sent them to the losers bracket.
In game two Bannister tossed seven strong innings surrendering just four hits, and not allowing a single run. He would eventually go on to collect his 10th win of the season, and Arizona would be on its way to a showdown with Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
The Wildcats’ offense started off the first game sizzling and seemed to bring their hot bats all the way from Tucson. Senior Zach Gibbons and freshman Alfonso Rivas III found ways to get on base to start the 4th inning, to set-up Senior Ryan Aguilar for a three-run home run to break open the scoring.
Arizona would add another run in the inning, making it 4-0. The Cats added another three runs in the bottom of the 6th, pacing themselves to a 7-3 victory over the Bearkats.
Heading into the next game, Arizona would have to wait to get their chance against the No. 1 seed, again battling the inclement weather.
Sunday afternoon started to the Wildcats’ misfortunes. The Ragin’ Cajuns used a strong offensive performance, and unfortunately, Arizona was never able to recover, ultimately falling to Louisiana-Lafayette 10-3.
Facing elimination, Arizona had to face off against Sam Houston State on Sunday night, in a win-or-go-home situation. Junior Bobby Dalbec got the start on the mound, and pitched six, solid innings, surrendering four runs on seven hits.
The Wildcats used another strong offensive performance, scoring all of their runs in the first six innings. Arizona broke open the scoring; freshman Cesar Salazar scored from third off of a fielding error by Sam Houston State. The Wildcats would add five more runs over the next three innings, leading 6-2 heading into the seventh inning.
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Sam Houston State would make things close, adding three runs in the seventh, but Junior Kevin Ginkel and Rivas would finish out the game pitching for the Wildcats, and shutting the Bearkats’ offensive attack.
Arizona would ultimately go on to win the elimination game by a 6-5 final.
With their backs against the wall and needing another victory, the Wildcats opened the regional final game against Louisiana-Lafayette with Bannister returning to the mound. Desperate for the win, Bannister answered the call, pitching a masterful seven innings, holding the Ragin’ Cajuns to three runs on five hits.
The Cats’ offense jumped out to a quick start, adding three runs in the first inning. Aguilar would convert in a bases-loaded situation, doubling in two runs. Arizona would add two more runs in the following inning.
Cruising to a comfortable 6-1 lead into the 8th inning, the Wildcats had a scary moment with the bases loaded for Louisiana-Lafayette, and just one out. Ginkel came in and got a crucial double play to end the inning.
Ginkel would close out the game, and Arizona would go on to win by a 6-3 final.
In a winner-take-all finale, Arizona came into the game rolling off three-straight wins. Coming off a save in the previous matchup, Ginkel again took to the mound, pitching five and two-thirds innings, allowing just one run for the Wildcats.
Arizona would strike first, adding two runs in the first inning. The Cats would plate another run in the second inning, increasing their lead to 3-0. Ginkel and sophomore Cameron Ming would provide stellar pitching for the Cats, shutting down a potent Ragin’ Cajun offense all game long, allowing just five hits.
The Ragin’ Cajuns would finally get on the board on in the fourth inning, but that would be all they could muster against Arizona’s pitching.
With the 3-1 victory, Arizona improves to 42-21 on the year and advances to the Super Regional for the first time since 2012.
Quite an impressive feat in Johnson’s first season with the Wildcats, especially considering many publications didn’t expect Arizona to make the playoffs this year, let alone advance in the first round.
Arizona proved a lot of doubters wrong this weekend, and they are certainly deserving, and hopefully are enjoying this victory, before getting back to work.
The Wildcats are the lone remaining Pac-12 team in the Super Regionals in their quest for a National Championship NCAA World Series win!
Following the win, the Wildcats will have to travel to Starkville, MS, to take on a very talented Mississippi State. The Super Regional series will open on Friday. Bear Down, Arizona, and beat the Bulldogs!