When Arizona Wildcats coach Andy Lopez walked out of the dugout following his team’s 6-1 win over Arizona State on Sunday, he smiled when he saw a television camera waiting for a postgame interview.
“Wow, score five runs and the TV guys want to talk to you,” Lopez said.
Six runs, coach. Not five.
“You’re right, we scored six,” Lopez said. “I lost count. After four, I was in a state euphoria.”
Who could blame him?
After scoring just 14 runs in their past eight games, the Wildcats finally showed some life on offense in the series finale against the Sun Devils. Lopez’s club pounded out 11 hits and saw eight of the nine starters reach base via hit or walk.
The offensive surge helped the Wildcats (18-25, 7-14 Pac-12) avoid a series sweep after the Sun Devils held them to just one run in taking the first two games. It also snapped a five-game losing streak.
“We had to come out tonight and prove that we weren’t going to go down and fold up,” said catcher Riley Moore, who went 3 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored in the win. “We had to show some toughness and character. We knew what had to be done today and that’s what we came out and did.”
Arizona did most of their damage on the ground Sunday, clubbing hits out on the firm Hi Corbett Field grass. Ten of the UA’s 11 hits were singles.
It’s a message that Lopez has been preaching for weeks, but the Wildcats haven’t been responding to.
“Hard and low works everywhere,” Lopez said. “It works at any park, in any weather setting. Hard and high does not. If you hit the ball hard and low, you give yourself a chance. We have not been doing that lately, but we did tonight.”
Ironically, the hit that sparked Arizona’s offense was the lone extra-base hit of the game.
After starting pitcher Tyger Talley put up a scoreless frame in the first, Arizona put two runners on after Scott Kingery walked and Trent Gilbert singled on a ground ball to right field. Freshman Michael Hoard, a Salpointe Catholic High School product, then roped a double into the left-center field gap to score both runs and give Arizona an early lead.
“Right before his hit, I turned to one of my assistants and I said, ‘I can’t remember the last time we put a ball in the gap with people in scoring position,’ ” Lopez said. “That was big for him and big for the team. I think it relaxed our guys a bit after struggling so much.”
Added Hoard: “I saw everyone get amped up after that. There was no way we were getting swept. No way. We were not letting ASU leave here with three. Mentally, everyone was on the same page. We weren’t letting those guys do that. Not on our home turf.”
After Arizona State (23-17, 12-9) plated a run in the third, Arizona responded with two more in the fourth. Willie Calhoun and Moore led off the inning with back-to-back singles and then were moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Joe Maggi.
Zach Gibbons drove in Calhoun with a sacrifice fly and Moore scored on a two-out RBI single from Kevin Newman.
Arizona went 4 for 12 with runners in scoring position on Sunday. During their five-game losing streak, the Wildcats were 3 for 21 with runners in scoring position.
Arizona was solid on the mound, too. Talley only went 4ª innings and gave up two hits and four walks. He was pulled after 83 pitches.
Relievers Cody Moffett and Bobby Dalbec then combined for 4º hitless innings. Moffett was credited with the win, upping his record to 2-2.
The Wildcats’ solid performance on Sunday followed a lengthy postgame chat Saturday. Lopez kept his team in the home clubhouse for close to an hour and a variety of topics were covered.
“We talked for a good long time,” Lopez said. “I told them ‘OK, so it didn’t work out the way you planned for it to work out. That’s a challenge, but there are so many opportunities within challenges. You’re going to be thankful you responded in a proper manner.’
“I feel badly for them, but you still have to compete.”
Arizona plays next on Friday at Oregon. First pitch is set for 7 p.m., on Pac-12 Arizona.