OMAHA, Neb. — Arizona won for the fifth time in a row when facing elimination, defeating Oklahoma State 9-3 in the College World Series on Friday.
Winning a sixth straight elimination game will be the Wildcats’ most daunting challenge yet.
Arizona lost ace pitcher Nathan Bannister in the third inning because of an undisclosed injury. Bannister’s premature exit forced UA coach Jay Johnson to tax his bullpen, using Kevin Ginkel and Cameron Ming to get through the rest of the game. That might have been the combination of choice for Saturday’s bracket-deciding game against the Cowboys. The winner will advance to the CWS finals, a best-of-three series scheduled to start Monday.
The most logical candidate to start Saturday is now probably junior Bobby Dalbec, who threw 122 pitches in Arizona’s 1-0 loss to Oklahoma State on Monday. The Cowboys are expected to use No. 1 starter Thomas Hatch, who shut out UC Santa Barbara in the CWS opener on Saturday. Hatch, taken by the Chicago Cubs in the third round of the MLB draft, is 9-2 with a 1.89 ERA.
Arizona had to overcome the shock of their top pitcher having to leave the game. Bannister had retired the first eight batters he faced, five by strikeout.
After Ginkel retired J.R. Davis on a line drive to center field to end the third inning and keep Arizona’s 3-0 lead intact, Johnson huddled the team in the dugout.
The Wildcats expanded the lead to 4-0 in the fourth. The Cowboys responded with two runs in the bottom half of the inning against Ginkel. Johnson turned to Ming in the fifth, and he continued his stellar postseason pitching with five innings of one-run relief. Ming was credited with his fourth save of the season.
Arizona took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, marking the first time this postseason that Oklahoma State had trailed in a game. JJ Matijevic drove in the run with a two-strike single to left.
Cesar Salazar and Louis Boyd – the Wildcats’ Nos. 8 and 9 batters – connected for back-to-back doubles in the second. One batter later, Zach Gibbons singled to center to make it 3-0.
Bannister was cruising until he walked .167-hitting catcher Collin Theroux with two outs in the bottom of the third. Bannister then required medical attention on the mound. He talked to UA coach Jay Johnson, pitching coach Dave Lawn and trainer Leanna Olivar for several minutes, threw a couple of warmup pitches and exited the game. His teammates greeted him with hugs just outside the first-base dugout.
Bannister had been in the midst of a breakout senior season. He entered Friday with a 12-2 record and a 2.64 ERA.
Johnson drew criticism – most notably from ESPN’s Keith Law – for starting Bannister twice in a four-day span in the Lafayette Regional from June 3-6. Bannister started the second game of the Super Regional at Mississippi State on four days’ rest. He started the first game of the College World Series on Saturday on normal rest (six days). He had five days to prep for Friday’s start.
Arizona added five runs in the eighth and ninth to give Ming some breathing room.
Gibbons and Matijevic had three hits apiece for the Wildcats. Salazar went 2 for 2 with a walk and three runs scored. He also reached via a hit by pitch.