Andy Lopez manned his normal spot on the top step of the home dugout.
His team trailed by one run in the ninth inning and had a runner in scoring position for the second straight game. Arizona’s longtime coach anxiously watched to see if his Wildcats had a final rally in them.
With Joe Maggi leading off second base, shortstop Kevin Newman swung at a first-pitch change-up from Washington State closer Ian Hamilton and lined out softly to second baseman Luke Stratman for the third out.
Washington State 3, Arizona 2 — or, more harshly, a second straight one-run home loss to a bottom-of-the-barrel Pac-12 team.
“It was Groundhog Day,” Lopez said Sunday at Hi Corbett Field. “It was the same situation as yesterday. A lot of opportunities to score some runs and we came up empty. I have to get better at coaching RBI at-bats. We have to start cashing some runs in.”
The weekend started with a bang for the Wildcats, who beat the Cougars 12-1 on Friday night to open Pac-12 play.
But less than 48 hours later, it ended with a thud.
After giving up two runs with two outs in the ninth on Saturday to lose 6-5, the Wildcats lost their opening conference series and sit at 11-11 on the season.
“Like I told the club, ‘The good news is it’s early in conference (play), but the bad news is it’s the Pac-12. If this is going to be your theme, it’s going to be a rough road, because you have to be productive in productive at-bats,” Lopez said. “I always tell them it’s one game at a time and the season is a marathon. I hope they understand that, because there’s still a ways to go.
“I always say the biggest game of the year is the next game we have because it’s the only one you got, and that’s never truer than now.”
On Sunday, Washington State (6-9, 2-1 Pac-12) struck first, scoring runs in the third and the fourth to take a 2-0 lead. The Wildcats responded in the bottom of the fourth when Zach Gibbons singled home Trent Gilbert to make it 2-1.
But Lopez’s team missed an opportunity to do even more damage in the frame. After Gibbons reached, Willie Calhoun and Bobby Dalbec followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases for catcher Jordan Berger with one out.
Berger hit a ground ball to first baseman Jason Monda, who stepped on first for the second out and fired home to catcher P.J. Jones, who tagged Gibbons for the third out of the inning.
“I think guys are putting a lot of pressure on themselves and we’re all trying to hit 10-run home runs,” Gibbons said. “We’re all trying to win the game on one at-bat instead of sticking a ball in the gap and doing what we’re supposed to do.”
WSU increased its lead to 3-1 with a run in the top of the seventh. In the bottom half, Riley Moore opened with a bloop double to left field. After Maggi bunted him over to third with one out, Scott Kingery and Cody Ramer each popped out to end the threat.
The UA got one run back in the next inning when Dalbec singled home Newman and moved Kenny Meimerstorf to third, but then Moore hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Arizona was 1 for 8 in two-out hitting situations and 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
“These are a couple tough games to swallow because we were right in them and had our chances to win,” Newman said. “I’d say we’re definitely tensing up at the plate in RBI situations. A lot of guys are trying to do their job so well that they’re tense and they’re tight rather than relaxing and trusting themselves.”
The Wildcats play Tuesday at home against Grand Canyon and then will travel to Washington for a three-game series against the Huskies.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction, so it’s definitely not panic time or anything,” Newman said. “It’s only the first weekend of Pac-12 — we still have nine more chances.”