The Arizona Wildcats continued their crazy offensive onslaught Sunday afternoon, defeating Hartford 17-13 to secure a series sweep. No. 11 Arizona plated 63 runs in the three games, its highest output for a series since scoring 64 in a two-game set against St. Francis in February 1995.
But in a game that featured 30 runs, 29 hits and 15 walks, it was a pitching sequence that gave UA coach Jay Johnson the most satisfaction.
With the score 15-13 in the top of the eighth inning, Hartford had runners on first and second with catcher Erik Ostberg coming to the plate. Ostberg entered Sunday batting .514, and he had worn out the Arizona pitching staff, going 8 for 11 with a home run and six RBIs.
Johnson brought in redshirt freshman left-hander Randy Labaut to face the left-handed-hitting Ostberg. On an 0-2 pitch, Ostberg grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
As Labaut approached the dugout, Johnson intercepted him and gave him a chest-bump.
“I’m happy for Randy,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long road for him.”
Labaut had to sit out last season because of an NCAA-eligibility issue. He was a member of the 2016 team, which reached the final game of the College World Series, yet never played an inning. The jam he inherited in the eighth Sunday was the most stressful situation any UA pitcher faced all weekend.
“The tying run’s on first base,” Johnson said. “It was tough getting outs. To get two on one pitch — against a guy that had just abused our pitching staff, and our left-handed pitchers for that matter — that was a big moment in the game. It was the magic moment in the game.”
Johnson cycled through nine pitchers against a persistent Hawks offense that kept counter-punching after a pair of TKOs earlier in the series. The Wildcats won the first two games by a combined score of 46-8.
Game 3 developed differently — Hartford jumped to a 6-0 lead — but Arizona kept on scoring. The Wildcats’ numbers for the series will cause double-takes. Arizona accumulated a collective triple-slash line of .455/.540/.677. The Wildcats had 18 extra-base hits, including five triples and three home runs.
“We can definitely hit,” said senior infielder Kyle Lewis, who had one of the triples as part of a 3-for-4 afternoon. “This weekend, we just found different ways to score runs. We weren’t hitting the ball the whole weekend. We were bunting, executing, hit-and-runs. We showed a full repertoire of hitting, and it felt good.”
Lewis was one of several series standouts, going 6 for 11 with eight runs scored. Some others:
- DH Alfonso Rivas went 9 for 10 with eight RBIs and eight runs.
- Outfielder Cal Stevenson went 7 for 10 with five RBIs and 11 runs.
- Outfielder Jared Oliva went 5 for 11 with 11 RBIs and four runs.
Oliva had six RBIs Sunday, including a fourth-inning grand slam. The slam was the first of his career and gave Arizona its first lead.
Stevenson and Rivas were on base, as happened every time they batted. The two combined to go 6 for 6 with six walks.
Arizona is hitting .370 as a team and averaging 11.1 runs per game. But no one is swinging the bat — or seeing the ball — better than Rivas, who’s hitting .462 with 21 RBIs. Rivas also has a .625 on-base percentage thanks to a 13-3 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
“I feel really confident up there,” the sophomore said. “I always feel like I’m going to succeed. I’ve been sticking to my approach of being aggressive early in the count and hunting fastballs, and I’ve had success with that.”
The Wildcats improved to 13-2, including 11-0 at Hi Corbett Field, their best start at home since 1998. But the schedule is about to take a wicked turn.
Arizona plays seven of its next eight games on the road. The stretch starts at No. 7 Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday. The UA opens Pac-12 play against UCLA on Friday. The following weekend, Arizona visits No. 5 Oregon State.
“I’m very confident and excited for these however many weeks we’re playing on the road against — no offense to Hartford — better competition,” Rivas said. “I’m excited because I know we’re ready.”
- Johnson on the football-like final score Sunday: “I’m glad we blocked the extra point and forced them to score a touchdown on the last drive.”
- Thanks to a bloop single in the eighth, UA outfielder Mitchell Morimoto has hit safely in every game this season.
- Arizona’s first nine RBIs came with two outs.
- The Wildcats scored four runs on wild pitches, including two that followed steals of third base.