When Jay Johnson said last week that “every game is a playoff game,” he meant every game.
That includes those midweek affairs that can feel like exhibitions. But the Arizona Wildcats coach also knows how fickle 18- to 21-year-olds can be. If ever there was risk of a letdown heading into a midweek contest, it was Tuesday night against Grand Canyon.
Arizona was coming off a sweep of then-No. 8 UCLA. The series triumph vaulted the Wildcats back into the NCAA Tournament picture.
Arizona pummeled GCU last month. The Wildcats also are in the midst of final exams.
So it wasn’t surprising that Arizona was sloppy at times against GCU on a warm evening at Hi Corbett Field.
After some shaky moments early, the Wildcats powered past the Lopes for a 20-6 victory. Arizona has won six straight.
The Wildcats committed two errors in the first four innings after playing error-less ball against the Bruins. UA pitchers also uncorked four wild pitches in the first four frames.
One sequence was particularly unsightly.
With Arizona leading 7-4 and runners on first and second in the top of the fourth, Preston Price threw a wild pitch. Catcher Cesar Salazar chased the ball down near the netting on the first-base side. Although the lead runner wasn’t headed home, Salazar threw the ball from his knees toward Price. It caromed off Salazar’s mask, allowing Quin Cotton to score.
Price then threw another wild pitch, plating Pikai Winchester.
Fortunately, the Wildcats were locked in at the plate from the start.
Nick Quintana hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first to give Arizona a 4-1 lead.
He added a two-run shot in the eighth. The sophomore third baseman leads the team with 11 homers, the most by a Wildcat since Bobby Dalbec had 15 in 2015.
Shortstop Cameron Cannon matched his classmate with a three-run homer of his own in the bottom of the second. Cannon has seven home runs, second on the team behind Quintana.
The Lopes (27-21) trimmed their deficit from 7-3 to 7-6 in that rocky fourth inning, but the Wildcats (29-17) answered with a run in the bottom half and three more in the fifth.
Arizona reached double digits for the second time in as many tries against GCU. The Wildcats defeated the Lopes 16-1 on April 10 in Phoenix.
Arizona improved to 9-1 in midweek games.
Baseball America recently released its top 500 for the 2018 MLB draft, and it’s littered with current and (possible) future Wildcats.
Five active UA players made the list, led by junior-right-hander Cody Deason, whom BA ranks 110th. That would make Deason a fourth-round pick.
Deason was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week last week after throwing his first career shutout against UCLA. Entering Tuesday, Deason ranked fourth in the league in ERA (2.36) and tied for third in strikeouts (72).
Junior first baseman Alfonso Rivas III is 121st in the BA 500. That also puts him in the fourth-round range.
The other Wildcats who made the top 500: junior right-hander Michael Flynn (257), Salazar (268) and senior right-hander Tylor Megill (427).
Two members of Arizona’s 2018 recruiting class are projected as first-round picks and therefore aren’t likely to play for the Wildcats. Left-hander Matthew Liberatore of Glendale Mountain Ridge is BA’s No. 2-ranked prospect. Power-hitting corner infielder Nolan Gorman of Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor is No. 14.
At least two other UA signees will have difficult decisions to make during and after the June 4-6 draft. Catcher Austin Wells of Las Vegas is ranked 202nd in the BA 500. Right-hander Bryce Collins of Santa Clarita, California, is ranked 305th.
• GCU junior third baseman Zach Malis, who played at Desert Christian High School, was named Western Athletic Conference Hitter of the Week after slugging three home runs against Cal Bakersfield on Sunday. Malis entered Tuesday batting .282 with a team-leading six homers. Malis singled to center field to drive in a run in the first inning.
• Another Tucson-area product, senior left-hander Jake Repavich, is one of GCU’s starting pitchers. The Cienega grad is 2-4 with a 6.87 ERA.
• The Lopes, who have completed the transition from Division II, are eligible for the NCAA Tournament for the first time. To qualify, they would have to win the WAC Tournament, which begins May 23 in Mesa. GCU leads the WAC with a 14-4 league record.
• Arizona resumes Pac-12 play with a three-game series at Cal starting Friday. The UA plays its final nonconference game Monday at Sacramento State.