The Arizona Wildcats were one out away from a series win over Washington State on Saturday night and a fast start to Pac-12 play.
And then things took a turn for the cruel at Hi Corbett Field.
Leading by a run in the ninth with the bases empty and two outs, Washington State’s Nick Tanielu reached first on an error by UA second baseman Trent Gilbert. The next batter, Yale Rosen, doubled to right-center field off closer Bobby Dalbec to move Tanielu to third.
P.J. Jones, who entered the game 0 for 31 on the season, then chopped a slow ground ball to shortstop Kevin Newman, who had to wait back on it and field it. By the time he did and fired the ball to first it was too late. Tanielu scored and Rosen, running hard from second base, was right behind him to score the eventual game-winning run.
The two runs in the ninth gave the Cougars a 6-5 win over the Wildcats and evened the three-game series up at one game apiece.
“Bobby did what we asked him to do — he got three outs,” coach Andy Lopez said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t handle the third one and then they took advantage of it.
“This one falls under the classic thing I like to say: Great one to win, tough one to lose.”
Dalbec also had to respond to a misplay from the Wildcats when the first batter of the inning, Trek Stemp, hit a pop fly to first baseman Michael Hoard in foul territory. Hoard bobbled the ball and eventually dropped it. Dalbec recovered from that one and struck out Stemp on the next pitch.
But he couldn’t get past the Gilbert error and was handed the loss and the first blown save of his young career.
“I’ve made errors, we all have,” said Dalbec, who had an error of his own in the loss in the second inning. “It happens. I still have to be able to get out of the inning and get us a win.”
It looked like Dalbec, a freshman from Parker, Colo., who started the game at first base, was going to be the hero Saturday night.
With the game tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, Dalbec came through with a two-out RBI single to score Gilbert and give the Wildcats a one-run lead.
He then came on in the ninth and got the first two hitters before the Cougars staged their comeback.
The loss dropped Arizona to 11-10 on the season and 1-1 in conference play.
“You have to play defense, you have to execute and you have to do the little things to win games in this league,” Lopez said. “We didn’t do that tonight. We had some chances early on to score some runs and really take a lead and we didn’t convert. It just wasn’t a very good ballgame from us.”
Starting pitcher Cody Hamlin went 7ª innings in his first Pac-12 start and gave up four runs (three earned) on 10 hits and struck out three. But twice he gave up runs in the half inning after Arizona scored.
After the Wildcats took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI double from shortstop Kevin Newman, Hamlin gave up three runs in the second.
The Wildcats tied the game in the third off an RBI single from Newman and a sacrifice fly from Gilbert.
They took the lead one inning later when Newman again came through with RBI single.
But again, Hamlin gave up the lead, giving up a two-out RBI single to Jones.
“He was OK. He wasn’t great,” Lopez said of Hamlin.
“The standard here is when we score a run, we’re supposed to hang a zero and we didn’t do that very often tonight. We would score a run and then give them a couple of runs, we would score a run and then give them a run. They did that with two outs a couple of times, which is a bugaboo for me right now.”
Newman went 3 for 5 in the loss with a double and three RBIs. Lopez said Newman had the flu and he wasn’t sure if the infielder was going to play Saturday night. The manager made two lineups before the game, one with Newman, one without. But Newman was cleared to play 30 minutes before first pitch and was one of the few bright spots for the Wildcats in the loss.
“He was getting IVs about an hour or so before the game,” Lopez said. “We had no idea if we were going to have him or not. He stepped up for us.”
Scott Kingery also had three hits and Gilbert was 2 for 4.
Jones finished 3 for 5 for Washington State with 3 RBIs after his cold start to the season. Rosen was for 4 for 5 and DH Ben Roberts was 3 for 3 with an RBI.
The Wildcats will try to win the series against Washington State (5-9, 1-1) today at noon.
Freshman Austin Schnabel, who dealt with some shoulder tightness earlier in the week, will start for Arizona. Right-hander Tanner Chleborad (0-2, 4.50 ERA) will start for Washington State.
“The freshmen have to grow up, so this is a good opportunity for him,” Lopez said of Schnabel. “We’ll see what he can do.”