Andy Lopez swears he almost saw Bigfoot on Sunday night at Hi Corbett Field in the ninth inning of Arizona’s 6-5 win over UCLA.
Boy is the coach happy he didn’t.
The near-sighting came with UA’s Kevin Newman at the plate in a tie game on an 0-2 count, when the shortstop started to swing on a pitch down and away. The home plate umpire turned to his counterpart at first base, Danny Mascorro, to check.
“A check swing in college baseball is kinda like Bigfoot,” Lopez said smiling. “You hear that it might be out there, but no one has ever found it.
“In the big leagues, a check swing is like a Saguaro cactus in the desert. But in college baseball ... you never see it. You just don’t see it called very often.”
And the Wildcats are thankful for that.
Instead of a three-pitch strikeout, Newman was given a second life. With runners on first and third and one out, the shortstop hit a soft chopper to third baseman Chris Keck, who was playing even with the bag.
Keck fielded it and fired home, but Zach Gibbons was able to slide under Shane Zeile’s tag for the winning run and Arizona’s first series win over the Bruins since 2005.
How close was the near-swing? Newman started taking a few steps to first base after Zeile dropped the 0-2 offering. He thought he was toast.
“I personally thought I did go,” Newman said. “I talked to some of the guys in the dugout. Some said I went, some said I held up. I’ll try to find the replay tonight and see for myself.
“You really never know in a situation like that, and thankfully it was in our favor.”
The wacky ending capped off a wild game that had a little bit of everything.
UCLA scored twice in the first inning off Arizona starter Tyger Talley. It would have been worse, but Gibbons threw out Christoph Bono at home on a single by Luke Persico for the final out.
Arizona responded with a run in the bottom half. And after the teams traded runs in the second inning, UCLA scored another to take a 4-2 lead through three.
The Wildcats (17-20, 6-9 Pac-12) then scored three runs in the fourth. The first occurred when Riley Moore came home on a wild pitch, and the next two were courtesy of a two-run double from Gibbons.
UCLA answered right back in the fifth on an RBI single by DH Kevin Williams off UA reliever Morgan Earman.
Things calmed down after that, thanks to UA left-hander Cody Moffett.
The sophomore relieved Earman after 1º innings and threw 3º scoreless innings. He gave up two hits, struck out three and didn’t walk any.
He was finally taken out in the ninth after he gave up a one-out single. Closer Bobby Dalbec came in and after a UCLA sacrifice bunt, the freshman struck out Brett Stephens looking to escape the inning and keep the game tied.
All total, the bullpen through six innings and gave up just one run on three hits after Talley lasted just three innings.
“We needed to have that performance from our bullpen tonight,” Lopez said. “If we don’t get it, we’re not all talking about, ‘Hey, that was a good weekend.’ We’re going the other way.
“It’s no secret that our pitching numbers have been nothing short of disastrous this season for the exception of (Cody) Hamlin and Dalbec. As the pitching staff goes, the program goes.
“But Moffett was outstanding. He was probably the reason we won.”
UCLA (19-15, 7-5) also got a big-time performance from its star out of the bullpen, David Berg, who threw 2º hitless innings. But the junior was forced to leave the game before the bottom of the ninth with an apparent arm injury.
Gibbons took advantage of it, leading off the inning with a double off his replacement, Scott Burke.
“I really hope he’s OK, but that’s definitely a good feeling when you see him go out of the game,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons went 4 for 5 in the win with two RBIs and two runs scored. The UA needed that performance after center fielder Scott Kingery left in the fourth inning when he injured his foot running to first base.
The Wildcats have now won five of their last six games and have earned victories in their last two conference series.
“For 32 years in college baseball, my message is, I just want the last 10 games to have meaning,” Lopez said. “If the last 10 have meaning, we’re in good shape. So hopefully we can get to that point.”